Founded in 2016 in the United Kingdom, Tropic emerged with a mission to address the unique challenges faced by farmers in tropical regions through cutting-edge genetic innovation. With coffee being its first crop, the team at Tropic soon expanded their attention to one of the world's most vital food sources: bananas.
In early 2017, Tropic became pioneers in the application of gene editing in bananas, positioning themselves at the forefront of the industry. They recognised that the biggest pain points for banana growers were the diseases that threaten the economic viability of banana cultivation and as a result jeopardise the availability of this critical food source for over 400 million people worldwide.
To this day, many farmers in the banana business are concerned that the industry as we know it will suffer greatly in the coming decade unless a viable solution is identified.
Below: Inspecting banana field trials in Honduras.
Fight against Banana Panama Disease (TR4)
When it comes to the threat of the banana crop, there are two main diseases at hand – Banana Panama Disease, also known as TR4, and Black Sigatoka. TR4 is a soil-borne fungal pathogen that attacks the roots of banana plants, leading to their eventual demise.
Infected fields typically suffer a significant reduction in yield, ranging from 20% to 40%, which poses a severe economic challenge for farmers for up to half a century. TR4, initially detected in Taiwan in the 1980s, rapidly spread globally, impacting key banana production regions in the Philippines, China, India, Africa, and Latin America.
Seeing this as an area that couldn’t be overlooked, the Tropic team developed a ground-breaking technology platform called GEiGS®.
"Our breakthrough technology platform, GEiGS®, is a game changer in the fight against diseases. By combining the benefits of RNAi with precise gene-editing, GEiGS® provides a unique and versatile platform that can be customised to address critical farming challenges such as viral, fungal, and pest diseases, without any yield penalties. It represents a major advancement in ensuring long-term crop health and sustainable agriculture."
Originally created to combat TR4 in bananas, the GEiGS® technology has expanded beyond its initial purpose and Tropic. The solution is now under licence by other organisations, enabling them to address critical disease-related issues across a wide range of crops. A whole array of products now benefit from the capabilities of GEiGS®, including soybean, canola, potatoes, sugar beets, and even animals such as shrimp, pigs, and cows.
In the figure below: [Top] Some of Tropic’s resistant varieties which after being infected with the pathogen remain clear of the fungal growth. [Bottom] Standard Cavendish varieties which were infected with TR4 and showing the distinct brown fungal growth.
“Using gene editing to enhance banana productivity and disease resistance was a significant challenge. Starting our banana program in 2017 with limited available banana genetics knowhow, we developed most processes from scratch. Overcoming the hurdle of editing banana genomes without foreign DNA integration led to a proprietary tool now expanding to other crops. Today, over half of our 140 professionals are dedicated to our successful gene-edited banana program. We take pride in producing regulator-approved non-GMO bananas and being the pioneers in bringing such plants to the field in 2021.”
Below: Cristina, Director of Banana Biotechnology assessing banana plants in our greenhouses.
Looking ahead, Tropic has ambitious plans to expand its current field trials significantly throughout 2023. They aim to reach additional countries across Latin America and the Philippines, bringing the transformative power of GEiGS® to more farmers and communities. By doing so, Tropic strives to eradicate TR4 and other devastating diseases, heralding a new era of sustainable agriculture.
Tropic hopes that their journey can be an example of how innovation can change the course of history. By harnessing the potential of gene editing and RNA interference, Tropic is leading the charge in securing a brighter future for the global food supply chain.
"We're optimistic about effectively addressing TR4 and potentially eradicating this challenging pathogen soon. Collaborating with top banana companies, we accessed testing plots and obtained necessary approvals, enabling efficient field testing. Our leadership in banana genetics drives breakthrough products and paves the way for a resilient, sustainable future. We're excited to make a meaningful impact and lead the charge."
Tropic is committed to revolutionising agricultural practices and is proud to contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for the global food supply chain. With their GEiGS® technology, the eradication of TR4 and other critical diseases affecting various crops is within reach.
Tropic is a pioneering agricultural-biotechnology company dedicated to the development of healthier, more robust, high-performing varieties of tropical crops with a vision to becoming a world leading technology-forward seeds business. The company’s core crop portfolio focuses on banana, coffee and rice, which together provide a source of livelihood to over a billion people worldwide.
To date, the Company has raised over $80M from leading AgriTech and Impact investors including Temasek, Blue Horizon, ADQ, Aliment Capital, Five Seasons Ventures, Emerald Technology Ventures, Tekfen Ventures, Bloom8, EDBI, Agronomics, Genoa Ventures, Presidio Ventures, among others.