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Exclusive: Trace raises $10.5M for DNA soil data

Illustration of harvester cutting a Helix DNA shape into farm land

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Soil DNA startup Trace Genomics has raised a $10.5 million Series B for its soil testing tools and analytics.

Why it matters: Farmers need more data about the health of their soil to be able to grow crops more efficiently and sustainably.

How it works: Trace makes a kit that can test the DNA of all the microorganisms and nutrients in soil samples and uses the soil health data to deliver reports and analytics to customers.

The big picture: Farmers are increasingly turning to computing and data tools to farm more efficiently, reduce the use of pesticides and better manage resources like water and fertilizer.

  • As the climate changes, farmers will need more tools to navigate a harsher, less predictable environment.

Zoom in: Trace CEO and co-founder Poornima Parameswaran has been working on DNA sequencing for two decades and got her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Stanford.

  • Farmers historically have had access to chemical tests for their soil, and there are also some DNA tests available for specific diseases.
  • Trace's tests can identify all of the microscopic organisms as well as the function they're providing for the soil.

Between the lines: Trace raised the round from existing investors S2G Ventures and Ajax Strategies, as well as new investor Rabo Ventures.

  • Ames, Iowa-based Trace sells its soil-testing kits, which can test for microbes, nutrients and pathogens for 70 crops, to farmers and crop scientists.
  • The startup uses the data from the tests combined with machine learning to provide reports and insights for customers and partners like brewing giant ABInBev, farmer cooperative CHS and ag company Wilbur-Ellis.
  • Parameswaran said that any questions about if farmers are growing crops sustainably or not will melt away if they are farming with "the right kind of data from the soil."
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