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Biotech startup raises $100 million to tackle agricultural problem using fungi: 'There's so much we don't know about this incredible group of organisms'

Healthy soil is crucial for growing crops for the food supply.

Healthy soil is crucial for the growth of crops for food supply.

Photo Credit: Loam Bio

Fungi is being put to use in a range of planet-friendly functions, from being developed as a non-polluting flame retardant to being formed into bricks for construction and even helping to break down plastics.

Now, a biotech startup has received millions in funding to use fungi in a more conventional way: improving the health of soil that has deteriorated following agricultural practices. 

According to Business Insider, Australian company Loam Bio has generated $100 million from investors to scale up operations. It uses a microbial fungi-seed coating to help soil store more carbon and improve crop health.

Healthy soil is crucial for growing crops for the food supply. It is also important in flood conditions, as it can absorb excess water and reduce the risk of damage to local homes and businesses. 

Soil can absorb plenty of carbon from the air, helping to reduce the planet-warming pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere and increases the risk of extreme weather conditions — such as deadly storms and flooding.

Loam Bio adds a coating to seeds that allows fungi to grow as the roots take hold in the ground. The fungi live in harmony with the resulting plant, allowing it to absorb and break down carbon compounds. This allows for stronger, healthier crops and improved yields.

As Business Insider detailed, if carbon compounds are fixed to minerals in the soil, they are more resistant to natural breakdown from soil microbes. This means their capacity to store carbon can last for centuries. 

According to Loam Bio, there has been a 5.1% increase in canola crop average yields and a 2.9% rise in average barley production, all thanks to fungi.

"It kind of blows my mind that there's so much we don't know about this incredible group of organisms," Loam Bio CEO and co-founder Guy Hudson told Business Insider.

Carbon capture is an emerging technology to remove planet-warming gases from the atmosphere. While this is being achieved in large-scale facilities, a more natural solution could be an important ally in the fight against rising global temperatures. Loam Bio is continuing research into storage potential in a range of different types of soil.

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