University of Dundee

Plant Sciences PhD students take part in Biotechnology YES

24 Oct 2016

A team of PhD students from Plant Sciences represented the University of Dundee when they took part in the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Biotechnology YES) plant, microbial and environment workshop hosted by Syngenta, a leading agricultural company, in Newcastle recently. Senga Robertson, Rory McLeod, Estela Domingo Torres and Ruth Hamilton attended the competition that took place over three days. All teams taking part attended presentations from leading industry figures about all aspects of knowledge exchange and the commercialisation of ideas. The teams then had to prepare an oral business plan to be presented as a 15 minute presentation to a panel of “investors” on the final day. “Our hosts Syngenta were absolutely fantastic and went to a huge effort to accommodate everyone, including tours of their facilities and advice from several of their own people,” said Senga Robertson, from Davide Bulgarellis lab.  

The team from Plant Sciences formed a company called Next Gen Soils that came up with the idea of a natural alternative to fertiliser. Their business design was a soil sequencing and optimisation service where they would take soil samples from the fields of farms (pre-sowing) and sequence the bacteria present. Different crops grow optimally in different bacterial communities. Knowing what is currently present in the soil will allow an inoculum designed to bring the levels of good bacteria in line with what is required by the farmers crop of choice. The product would be freeze dried and sent to the farmer who simply mixes it with his seeds at the time of sowing. The inoculum allows the crops to take up maximum nutrients from the soil reducing the need for chemical fertiliser treatment by up to 80%, this saves the farmer up to 10k per year (depending on farm size) and also significantly reduces the environmental cost of chemical treatments. 

“We learnt a lot during the workshops and talks from people who have successfully started and are running their own science based businesses. It was incredibly inspiring to hear the amazing work they have done and how successful they have been,” explained Senga. “I also felt the event really brought us closer as a team, we could identify our individual strengths and really utilise them while constructing and delivering our business plan. Unfortunately we didn't make it through to the next round of the competition but we are really proud of what we achieved, the project we presented and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. ” 

About Biotechnology YES

The Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Biotechnology YES) is an innovative competition developed to raise awareness of the commercialisation of bioscience ideas among early career researchers. The competition, funded by sponsorship, aims to encourage an entrepreneurial culture for the benefit of the UK economy. Biotechnology YES is organised jointly by The University of Nottingham’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HGI), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC). More details about the scheme can be found at: