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Researchers in the Department of Chemistry have developed a crop stimulant that increases yields by 20%.

Global food security is threatened by increasing population and climate change. To meet the increasing global demands, crop yields must double in the next 35 years. Professor Ben Davis from Oxford University has partnered with Dr Matthew Paul at Rothamsted Research to develop a first-in-class chemical solution which is currently the only method for increasing crop yield that can keep up with this increasing demand. Driven by the success of the technology and commercial interest received, the spin-out company SugaROx has been formed to produce and sell this novel compound.

The SugaROx compound consists of a sugar molecule (trehalose-6-phsphate, T6P) essential for yield formation in plants, and a light-cleavable group that allows membrane permeation. The SugaROx method enables targeted increase in T6P to elevate the capacity for starch synthesis and increase photosynthetic rate.

A glass-house trial conducted on wheat showed increased grain size and yield per plant by up to 20%. This trial was published in Nature (Griffiths et al. 2016, Nature) and resulted in interest by several companies who will be the first customers of SugaROx. A large-scale field trial is now in progress and will form the basis for regulatory approval.

In addition to increasing yield, the T6P precursors also stimulate growth recovery after drought, allow control of specific processes, such as flowering time, and screening for genetic variation in processes that determine yield.

In April the SugaROx team were invited to pitch at the Investment Catalyst hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry and UK Business Angels Associations. The presentation was well received and SugaROx are now in discussions with a number of investors who would like to support the company going forward. Future developments for SugaROx include scale-up of production of the compounds, field trials in a range crops and toxicity testing for regulatory approval. SugaROx will need to recruit a team of people to carry out this work and to manage the company to ensure its continued success.

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