NAPIGEN, a company developing proprietary technology to edit mitochondrial and chloroplast genomes, completed a $7.85 million seed funding round.
The Grantham Foundation and RA Capital Management led the round. Breakout Labs/Thiel Foundation, Thrive SVG Ventures, MARSBIO, and the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation also participated in the financing.
NAPIGEN will use the funding to apply its mitochondrial gene editing technology for hybrid seed production in wheat and rice. Additionally, NAPIGEN will use its technology to develop mitochondrial expression systems useful for plant mitochondria.
“We need much more grains than people can produce now to support the steep population growth, a situation that is being made worse by geopolitical conflicts,” said Dr. Hajime Sakai, co-founder and CEO at NAPIGEN. “This can only be possible with breaking the biological yield limit of crop plants, which is exactly what we are aiming to do. Yield increases benefit both agriculture and environmental protection by reducing the need for deforestation to create new farmland, as well as decreasing the use of agricultural chemicals.”
NAPIGEN is a unique gene editing company that specializes in altering cytoplasmic genomes, such as mitochondrial and chloroplast DNA, for improvements in agriculture, industrial biotechnology, and human healthcare. NAPIGEN previously demonstrated use of CRISPR technology for genome editing of organellar DNA in yeast and algae (See: Cas9/gRNA-mediated genome editing of yeast mitochondria and Chlamydomonas chloroplasts, PeerJ 8:e8362; https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.8362).
More recently, NAPIGEN has applied its technology to gene editing of plant mitochondrial DNA in rice. NAPIGEN also has received funding from the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation and the NIH-SBIR program to apply its technology to gene editing of human mitochondrial DNA.
Though CRISPR technology has been widely used to engineer nuclear DNA in many organisms, mitochondria and chloroplasts—the powerhouses of cells—have proved harder to target with this approach because of the challenges of delivering RNA or DNA into organelles. NAPIGEN’s mission is to harness the potentials of organelles to make our society a better place to live.