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Dr. Todd Mockler is one of the world’s leading experts on plant genetics and has dedicated his career to better understanding how the genetic code of different types of plants impacts their behavior and responses. As a member and principal investigator with the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, his research has focused on the development of plant genomic tools, with the end goal of improving crop performance and yield.

On this episode of Innovation Anarchy, Dr. Mockler will discuss his career in plant biology, his work as an ag-tech entrepreneur and helped Benson Hill Biosystems — the startup company where he’s currently chief technology officer — is working to unlock the genetic code of plants in order to improve yields, boost crop performance, and help feed the world.

Carter Williams: As we’ve talked before on previous podcasts, the agricultural industry is going through a huge sea change in the United States and around the world. The United Nations expects that we need to over the next 35 years produce a lot more food to feed the world as it continues to grow both because of the growing population and because of growing economies. This is putting a big challenge on farmers who have to grow more while there are challenges in the climate, eroding soils, limitations on natural resources. There’s an urgent need to redefine the model of innovation in the ag industry in order to significantly improve crop performance and meet the demands. As it stands today most biology based innovation in agriculture happens in the R&D departments of major corporations like a Monsanto, which has the resources to reach and dedicate years of research and teams and experts to solve these big, world-changing problems, but this limitation is not sustainable and is no longer necessary.

Recent computational and biological advances have opened up a new era of innovation to address these global challenges with sustainable agricultural solutions allowing smart startups to enter the space as never before. Dr. Todd Mockler is one of the ag experts leading this transition. As chief technology officer of Benson Hill, principal investigator with the Danforth Center, and a long time professor of biology, Todd is at the forefront of plant genomics using the tools of genetic analysis to boost crop yield, improve agricultural output, and redefine how ag innovation is done. So, with that as an intro, Todd, welcome.

Todd Mockler:  Thank you, Carter: Thank you for the nice introduction.

CW: That’s a really long list of stuff. What does being a chief technology officer at Benson Hill, principal investigator at Danforth, and long time in professor of biology — what do you do right now?

TM: All right. Well, I have, I think, the best job in the world. I’m fortunate to be a faculty member, also called a principal investigator at the Danforth Plant Science Center here in St. Louis. At the Danforth, I run a large research group — about 20 people. We are working on various problems in plant biology that I’m interested in like how plants deal with environmental challenges like stresses like cold, heat, salt stress, for example. Fortunately, at the Danforth as a faculty member there I can spend 20% of my time doing other things, and those other things are not defined, but they include spending that 20% of my time being an entrepreneur.

So, I’ve taken advantage of that and had the good fortune to meet the right people, to help co-found companies like Benson Hill Biosystems, for example, where I’m CTO, as you mentioned. As a co-founder of Benson Hill, I brought in some technologies that are essentially spent out technologies from my lab at the Danforth Center, and helped shape the science that underlies Benson Hill’s technology platform. Yeah, I think that’s what it involves. It’s have it providing some scientific guidance and leadership, pointing the direction. Say, “Okay, this is an interesting area. Let’s tackle it, and these are the tools we can marshal to achieve those goals.”

CW: So, the Danforth Center was founded like 12, 15 years ago roughly?

TM: About 15 years ago.

CW: You run one of the three principal labs? Is that right, or how many people are they like you at the lab?

TM: There’s about 20.

CW: There are 20 people who have teams of 20?

TM: Yes. Right. You can think of the Danforth as comparable to a pretty large or modestly sized biology department at a university for example.

CW: And it is now a leading or the leading institution in applied biology?

TM: Yeah, by some metrics. Danforth, it’s the world’s largest independent nonprofit plant science Institute.

CW: I would think that in and of itself would consume all of your time, but you have the capability to start other businesses?

TM: Yeah.

CW: Even though they allow you to do it I just can’t imagine that the depth of challenge of both starting businesses and running a lab like that.

TM: Yeah. It can be challenging, but it’s the fun part that’s motivating. Well, the challenge and the fun is motivating. Of course, I love the research we do at the Danforth. The research … my lab is kind of like basic research oriented, but we are never going to put a product to market. Just like most biology professors are never going to make a drug and sell it to people, right? It’s the same with plant science. I like that aspect of the applied aspect, or seeing a technology through from the inception on the R&D side, and maybe in an academic research setting through to it affecting the marketplace. It’s like a release of that kind of desire and energy by being able to take some of my effort, or tackle those problems.

CW: Based on my experience both working in R&D at a place like Boeing, and then working with institutions over time it’s not common that somebody would be a principal investigator and an entrepreneur. They’re almost counterindicated.

TM: In some ways that’s true, and, yeah, so it’s pretty rare. Often people on the academic side just aren’t interested for whatever reason. Maybe just total focus — absolute focus — on their research and their research group, their lab. The questions they’re interested in, that’s one thing. I mean, some people just aren’t interested in business, right? There’s a lot of reasons, and somehow I just have this personality where I want to be able to do the basic science, but then have a hand on the applied side, and having the good fortune to be able to play on that side because of my position at the Danforth is … you know, it’s the perfect fit for me.

CW: I’ve been excited about doing this interview for some time because it’s that unique quality of your ability to both be a respected and successful principal investigator in an academic setting, and also father or father to several key startups that are leading the way in the commercialization of these technologies. Often, we have an iPhone, and it breaks, and we just go buy a new one, but somebody needs to know how to fix it. There’s a certain point there’s a certain amount of people when three or four people sat down and said, “We know how to go to the moon,” and figured it out, and led a whole team to reeled that success. In many successful things in life, there are a few key people that really were the intersection of incredibly good in their field, and also effective as entrepreneurs. So, I’m really intrigued to understand how you got … what led you to this point in time? Let’s roll the clock back like when you were twelve or six … I mean, like six, did you wake up and say, “I want to-

TM:  We can roll it back.

CW: “… be a plant biologist?”

TM: No.

CW: Help everybody understand what the sort of sequence was.

TM: Sure. It’s long and I could go on and on, but I’ll try to keep it brief. It really starts like 40 years ago. I remember when I was a kid — I’m guessing I was like about six — and my father brought home this book he gave me. It was a book. Something about science. Like, child level science, and I just fell in love with it. Read it, and I started thinking, “I’m going to be a scientist.” Pretty much my entire life. Even though I’ve dabbled in all kinds of different areas, I was always on the trajectory to be a scientist. I didn’t know what that meant. I went through phases interested in like astronomy and other aspects of science, the biomedical side, but ultimately, I landed in plant science. Along the way … Let’s see, what it looks like is going to college, so I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and I dabbled in a bunch of majors. Finally settled in biology, so I have degrees in biology and molecular biology and biochemistry.

That led to my first job in biotechnology. I worked for a startup called Target Tech which was in Connecticut. That company was working on the biomedical side, so I was working on gene therapy for human medicine. At that time, I really was on a trajectory to do something on the biomedical side. That with a company. So, Target Tech was acquired by a company in San Diego called Immune Response Corporation. That company offered to move me. I was like a 25-year-old kid or whatever, maybe 24, and they offered to move me to San Diego. I was like, “You’re going to pay me to move to San Diego? Yeah. I’ll be there tomorrow.” I worked there for a few years. Again, I’m working in the biomedical space on gene therapy, and it became clear to me at that time that if I really wanted to achieve my goals I had to get an advanced degree.

I started thinking about that, thinking about getting a Ph.D., something in the biomedical space. I knew I was very interested in … This was before genomes were being sequenced, but I was very interested in, like, genomic medicine. I remember writing an entrance essay for grad school, and then I had one of my colleagues that work … edit it. He said something like, “You keep saying this genomic medicine. What is that? Like, it’s meaningless.” It wasn’t to me. I mean, I was like, “This is the direction we are going.” Eventually, and when I got to grad school, I threw just kind of happenstance met a new faculty member in the plant science side. He invited me to work in his lab, and it was interesting to me … I was aware of some of the advances coming up on the plant side. For example, this was like when the first GM crops were starting to be commercialized, and I was aware of that.

CW: Timeframe?

TM: This is late ‘90s.

CW: Okay.

TM: Like, ’97, ’98.

CW: So, human genome was not fully unraveled?

TM: Not fully sequenced. The first plant genome wasn’t even sequenced yet, but the GM crops were just being commercialized. Yeah, I’ll give you an example at that time. I remember my first year of grad school outside of one of the labs there’s like a public bulletin board, and I had cut an article out of Investor’s Business Daily that was about — oh, now I can’t remember the name of the company — Delta Pine and Land. I think it was a GM cotton seed company that Monsanto had acquired, and I put it up on the board, and some professor, like, tore it down, and said to me, “Around here this is not going to be favored or received well.”

CW: Did any of your colleagues read Investor Business Daily?

TM: I was probably the only one. There was a couple of others. Anyhow, that’s how I got on this path of plant science. A lot of it’s being at the right time and the right place. I happened to be finishing my Ph.D. right when genome sequencing just was exploding, and I knew that I wanted to go in that direction, and that shaped most of my research career ever since. On the entrepreneurial side, all along what I just described … those were my day jobs. Like, working at the biotech companies, working in grad school for example, but all along I was dabbling on the entrepreneurial side. For example, well, in high school and in college my brother and I basically ran a auto detailing stop for the owners.

CW: Does that help you keep the beakers clean?

TM: No. It makes me fanatical about keeping my car clean. Then I contemplated taking on that business, but fortunately, I didn’t. Then into grad school, my friends and I started a series of basically web-based companies. Again, this was at the time where … this was like the Internet boom time.

CW: Yep, so it started in ‘95ish? ‘94, ‘95?

TM: Yeah. Well, ’96 to 2002.

CW: 

TM: Grad was around 2000. There was a sports focused website that a company … that we built that was actually profitable, and it was great. We ended up winding it down just because all the principals were moving on with their careers. You know, we’re all in grad school. My first genomics company called Cyber Genomics at that time, I became really passionate about gene synthesis and started a ill-fated company called [Combugenics 00:14:56]. Those were all-

CW: Gene synthesis and auto detailing are not normally-

TM: Yeah. I know.

CW: … in the same resume.

TM: Exactly, but I have varied interests, so these things were interesting at the time and/or potentially profitable, or cool technologically. Then I had a bit of a lull, so after getting my Ph.D. I did a postdoc at the Salk Institute. I tried really hard to focus on my science then because I really wanted to set up my career in a faculty position.

CW: So, there’s a certain point where you really have to pay the dues-

TM: Buckle down.

CW: … and dig in-

TM: Yeah. Exactly.

CW: … or really know the science.

TM: Know the science. Publish. In this business, it’s really about you have to publish to achieve scientific credibility, and make discoveries, or publicize, communicate your discoveries. The other part of it is you have to fund that work, right? Money doesn’t grow on trees, and somebody’s got to pay for the science, so fundraising is a big part of that.

CW: Is that like fundraising for a startup but different?

TM: It’s different. You know, it’s different. Yeah, as you know the fundraising for a startup you don’t usually write like a 20 or a 50-page written proposal, right? It’s more of the roadshow, and other supporting documentation. Pitches. On the science side, it’s more about usually written proposals where you really lay out all the science, and the hypothesis, and the experimental plans. It’s kind of like a scientific execution plan. It’s different. The fundraising, you have to raise the money to do what you want scientifically, but it’s done in a very different process. Anyhow, I buckled down, did well enough as a postdoc to end up getting my first faculty position at Oregon State University, and there I was … because when you’re running your own lab you’re basically running your own little kingdom, and you pursue your own scientific interests. Whether right or wrong, or for good or for bad that’s the idea.

CW: Where do you get the inspiration? What’s the pressure that gives you the inspiration for your scientific interests? Is it you have some blinding flash of the obvious where God, like, inserts it in your brain, or are you seeing something in the market, or what is-

TM: That hasn’t happened yet. For me, I can only speak for myself, there’s a combination of things. Part of what you have to do as a scientist is kind of constant surveillance of the literature, and the new findings, discoveries in your field, the hot topics, hot areas. In that way, you know where the science is going, what technologies are available to tackle your problems, things like that. It’s like putting your finger in the wind and sensing the direction.

CW: You’re in a multi-disciplined … yeah, you’ve done immunotherapy, human based I assume?

TM: Yeah. Right. Yeah.

CW: But on Salk side, it was ag.

TM: Yes. That’s right.

CW: You saw the sort of rapidly changing application of genomics really coming from the pure science phase to applied? Is that fair, or you probably still-

TM: Well, I would say it was not really pure science to applied, but the widespread application. Like, genomics going from being a very esoteric thing where the only places doing genomics were gigantic, mega sequencing centers like up here in St. Louis at Washington University where it was like an industrialized thing to nowadays, and even like now it must be about 10 years ago when you could start buying a sequencer for your lab. That kind of thing. It was democratized.

CW: When did you buy your first sequencer? Was that like … did you have a party that day, or was that sort of a … or did it just arrive and it’s like, “Oh, it’s a sequencer”?

TM: No. Well, I didn’t buy it myself. This is at Oregon State University, and with the leadership of Jim Carrington who is now the president of the Danforth Plant Science Center, we were one of the first groups to buy an Illumina sequencing machine. Illumina was the company that-

CW: How much did it cost at the time?

TM: I think it was like $800,000. Something like that.

CW: When was that?

TM: This was 2006 maybe. No, it was a little bit later than that. Probably 2008.

CW: What is it cost today?

TM: Well, let me just … And like six of us chipped in. We pooled our resources to buy it.

CW: Your labs? Yeah.

TM: Nowadays, you could get a machine that has equivalent sequencing capacity probably for $100,000. It’s dramatic.

CW: What does that cost?

TM: The ones nowadays are dramatically smaller, easier to use, and everything.

CW: And what did that cost like in ’97?

TM: The technology didn’t even exist in the sense that the sequencing technologies were radically different.

CW: It was 200 people in a lab pulling films and-

TM: Yeah. Gel images, and manually scoring the bases. Many, many orders of magnitude less throughput, and the costs were many, many orders of magnitude higher. Give you an idea, so the first plant genome project that my lab kind of like co-led, it cost probably about $6 million to sequence a genome, and right now I could sequence that genome for maybe $200.

CW: Really?

TM: It’s just unbelievable how in less than a decade the technology has changed everything.

CW: As you compare yourself to your peers, because they are not really being entrepreneurs … some of them are. I mean, the amount of Ph.D.’s that walk in our door leading entrepreneurial activities is small. What in your background do you credit with making you more entrepreneurial?

TM: It’s a great question. I don’t know. It’s just a personality thing. It’s like definitely part of me is like ADHD, and I have lots of interests, and want to pursue them, and have trouble just shelving something and not pursuing it. I’m willing to take risks.

CW: So, ADHD’s a feature, not a bug?

TM: Correct. Yeah.

CW: Were you ever on Ritalin?

TM: So, traits are all … just like in plants traits in people are relative to the environment, so being able to task switch or multitask, and/or jump from radically different things like giving an academic talk one day, and then jumping on a plane, and then giving an ag biotech pitch for a startup. To me, that’s fun. This is some of those-

CW: It doesn’t create stress? You just naturally shift gears?

TM: Well, it’s always a little bit stressful, but I somehow figured out how to just switch gears. You have to think a little bit differently. A lot of times I find kind of on the entrepreneurial side there has to be — for something to be legitimate scientifically — good scientific grounding, but the people you’re talking to – investors — they’re not going to want to go get down into the incredibly deep weeds, so you have to talk about science at a different level, for example, then if I was giving a presentation at a university. It’s a different audience. Different language. Different approach. I’m not claiming any kind of expertise at it, but I’ve been doing it.

CW: Has there ever been a time where you’ve sort of said, “You know, to do this sequencing or to think about this plant differently, what I learned detailing cars gives me this insight”? Is there any of that kind of multimodal kind of fusion that’s going on in your brain that is … have all those experiences contributed in some way?

TM: I think so. I mean, not like that. That was a good, fun example, but not like that. There’s just a huge amount of crossover. There are things, for example, that my lab has been pursuing — so, I’m talking at the Danforth — in what’s called field phenotyping or remote-sensing of characterizing plants using remote sensing technologies that we are doing on the academic side, and working with people that are like leading the charge in those areas, which are kind of new research areas in the plant field where I see … immediately can see the crossover and benefit to Benson Hill, or to NewLeaf Symbiotic’s, for example.

CW: Just to step this through this, so by gathering information in the field as the plants are growing and that environment, you can bring that back in to the breeding and gene editing process-

TM: Exactly.

CW: … to steer the optimization of a crop?

TM: Yeah. Exactly.

CW: Is that new thinking, or is that … If you get up and stand up and tell people this is it, “Oh yeah, obviously,” or do they sit there and they say-

TM: It’s one of these things it’s like hindsight is 20/20. For many decades, we’ve recognized that in any organism not just plants like I worked on, but traits are the manifestation of the information encoded in the genome – so, genes, the DNA — and how they interact with the environment. This has been well known. That concept is not rocket science by itself, but it’s only recently do we have the capability, for example, characterize the entire genome and the differences between varieties or individuals at a single base resolution. So, you can understand like we can sequence my genome and your genome, and understand every single base difference, and how they might theoretically affect the genes.

At the same time, because of developments in imaging, and optics, and sensor technologies, and then all the computational processes needed to make sense of those data, we can characterize plants in exquisite detail. You could like scan a plant with varied sensors every single day, and have temporal resolution, and spatial resolution, and information that breeders never even dreamed of in the past because it was just effectively impossible. Then we can have what’s called envirotyping information, super precise high resolution data about the environment that the organism is growing in. This is still an emerging field, but when you start bringing all those pieces together, my belief is that’s how are going to engineer the next generation of crops, and engineer and/or optimize breed by a combination of genomics and traditional breeding and genome editing or GMO technologies. It’s going to be because of that convergence of understanding the genome, understanding the plant development physiology, and understanding the environment.

CW: Is that something like … I’m going to make this up that for 30 days it’s okay if it has light water, but in like 10 days if it has more water at this particular phase it’s going to increase its yield by 10%, or is it-

TM: Yeah. That could be an example, and if we-

CW: But we don’t know that per se.

TM: If nobody’s looked for that for a particular crop we might not understand that. There are really basic things that we are just figuring out now where people are just doing the studies to understand. For example, like in the field the growth rate of … the differences in growth rates between different varieties of sorghum with one-day resolution, or hour level type resolution.

CW: Is that the type of resolution it’s like day, hour and not minute, second?

TM: Yeah. Day, hour. Just because the logistics of doing all the sensing over the … it takes time to scan a field, but this is information that it was impractical to ever gather in some cases just because either the technology didn’t exist, or it was too expensive, or too cumbersome, or whatever. So, these kinds of things are now becoming routine. It’s almost like the example I used earlier. 15 years ago it cost millions of dollars to sequence a genome. No regular scientist had access to the technology. Well, now the world’s changed, and you could go by an Illumina machine and put it on your desk if you just felt like it.

CW: We’ll have to look up the price on that.

TM: Yeah, and these other fields-

CW: I do have an oscilloscope at home, but not a genome sequencing machine.

TM: I think it’s akin to that in that there’s all these technology developments around sensing and characterizing plants with resolutions that are unprecedented that now are becoming available and routine.

CW: Then what will happen next? If you’re doing that field data, is there another thing beyond that, or do you think the field data’s another 30 years of effort to understand its impact on a crop?

TM: Did you just say 30 years?

CW: 30 years.

TM: No. I think in a matter of five years or something like that.

CW: If we just look at genomes. The effort around genome probably started warming up in the late ‘80s. Became a main stay in the late ‘90s, and it’s now practical enough to be part of an engineering suite.

TM: Yeah.

CW: So, you’ve got like 25, 30 years of life cycle on that.

TM: Yeah. I think that because a lot of these technologies that I’m talking about that are being applied in plant science, they’re pre-existing technologies. I mean, like hyperspectral imaging’s been around for a long time. It’s, of course, being miniaturized, and made cheaper, and better, and all that. So, it’s really technologies that exist, in most cases, are being applied to crop plants in new ways. Some of that development cycle … you don’t need somebody to come up with a radical new way to sequence. The bigger bottleneck … I mean, there are some bottlenecks, and some of the bottlenecks we are seeing are on the computational side. Extracting the nuggets of information, or think of it like the needles in the haystack, out of these large sensory data sets, to try to find … called features in the data that are correlated with traits you’re interested in like yield, for example — probably the most important trait — and all the components of the yield are other important aspects or traits of plants.

CW: Well, so, in the execution of that will that give us 5% better yield? 10% better yield? Is there sort of a peaking out that you think a natural limit to what the yield can be on corn other than a hundred … You know what I mean?

TM: I’m going to get the exact number wrong here I think, but if you look at crop plants like soybean, or sorghum, or corn that’s grown under absolutely optimal, ideal conditions like no stress and perfect … no nutrient limitations, perfect environment, all that, the yields are dramatically higher — like double — of the average corn yield is, for example. So, that yield potential is … it’s not like 5% more, 10%. There is enormous yield potential to be captured. Then, I guess, the other aspect of your question is small increments of improvement are meaningful. If you look at like the steady rate of genetic improvement, the rate of genetic gain in big crops, it averages out to like less than 2% per year, and that’s meaningful, right? If you compare corn yields from 40 years ago and today, that slow progression is-

CW: 1 or 2% per year is a good … means a lot.

TM: Yeah. It’s great. In other contexts … like, companies may not be interested in trying to commercialize something that’s only going to give you a small bump, right? They’re looking for step function type bumps like 8 or 10% or something like that. I think it’s all context dependent, and I can’t predict what the outcome’s going to be, but I and a lot of other people … the market kind of shows this with what’s going on in ag biotech and the new startups that are popping up, people believe that, yeah, there’s more potential to be extracted.

CW: What do you think comes next after that? We’ve done the genome. We know how to do gene editing, or maybe we don’t. Maybe we are getting there. Or monitor the fields? What’s next?

TM: Well, that’s a good question. Some of what’s next is the integration. The solution for a particular crop isn’t going to just be genome editing our traditional breeding. It’s going to be bringing these things all together. For example, if you could use genome editing to add a handful of desirable missing traits from your elite breeding materials, and then bring some traits in by GM, so it’s really like a product like an iPhone or whatever that’s an assemblage of a bunch of great features and traits. There’s that. I think bringing these technologies … this is I think part of the democratization of the process is bringing all these technologies to other crops. At least in the US in the last 30+ years, corn and soy have probably gotten the lion’s share of the effort in terms of…

CW: By that, what do you mean? Like, 80%? 90%?

TM: I can’t even hazard a guess, but it’d probably be 90%.

CW: Something on that order.

TM: Yeah. Something like that. I mean, where-

CW: So, we put all of our attention on the two big kids in town-

TM: Yeah. On a couple big-

CW: … but we haven’t focused on anybody else?

TM:… massive acreage crops that are really valuable. It totally makes sense. That’s where the economics are, but these technologies can be applied to other crop systems, and now that they’re cheaper or better and all that it’s going to be a faster process. I’m kind of jumping here, but here’s an example: you and I talked earlier about corn. Let’s just say it’s been domesticated for roughly 10,000 years or whatever, or that was how long it’s been-

CW: Long time.

TM: Long time. And other crops, people have been improving them through traditional breeding in one form or another for thousands of years. Well, if somebody wants to try to create a new crop today from some wild species it doesn’t have to take 10,000 years because we can apply all these technologies, and leapfrog it really fast. Maybe you could, essentially, domesticate a new species in a decade or two now, so there’s many opportunities there.

CW: It’s sort of like when the iPhone first came out it had email, but now it’s got 40,000 apps, so once we sort of unlock the capability, the entrepreneurs will unleash everything else.

TM: Exactly, so I think that’s an area where these technologies will just be applied to more and more crops and for different purposes. Some of the examples you and I talked about earlier where it’s a specialty products for example, or chemicals made in plants-

CW:  Like we were talking about, cultivate, making rubber from dandelions.

TM: Right. Exactly. That’s an example where, essentially, the crop is an engine for an industrial application. It’s driven by the accessibility of new technologies.

CW: Could you ever make a winter corn? Will you ever be able to engineer it that far that the-

TM: You mean that would grow through the winter?

CW: It would grow through the winter.

TM: No, well, maybe that would be a stretch, but I won’t say anything’s impossible with science.

CW: Well, that’s very interesting. All right, and so what’s next on your ADD list?

TM: I have a few things I’m interested in. I mentioned earlier this concept of … It’s called envirotyping, which is acquiring and analyzing, understanding very high resolution, essentially, environmental data. I’m working with a colleague at the Danforth and thinking about a startup company in that area. So, imagine sensors that would be in like every breeding plot in a crop improvement platform providing that key piece of information how the genetics of a variety interacts with the environment to give you the phenotype which is the, for example, yield. That’s one area that I’m very interested in.

I am also working with some other colleagues on a concept for another ag biotech type of a company, a seed company idea in the sorghum space. Sorghum is a very interesting crop that’s been very dear to me the last several years. In the US it’s an important crop, but relatively low acreage, and mainly used for feed, but in other parts the world, like the areas of the developing world it’s a staple food crop. It’s really a fascinating plant, and that has tremendous native stress tolerance, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, that’s just amazing. I mean, makes corn look kind of pathetic under those kind of conditions. Those are a couple of the things I’ve been thinking about.

I’m very interested in — and we talked about this — this idea of applying remote-sensing to plants. This is a place where there’s a lot of crossover from my academic work. We have some really big projects where we are using these remote-sensing technologies to characterize plants in the field, and also in controlled environments like growth chambers and greenhouses. Getting that kind of information fully integrated along with the genomics in the crop improvement process, that’s just a general goal of mine. That’s going to probably push forward both on the entrepreneurial side and on the academic research side.

CW: Great. Well, thank you for your time. I want to be sure that you’re going to come back again because I want to keep seeing this evolution. We are certainly interested in all these different angles, and give some more thought to how you end up being both an entrepreneur, and a scientist because I think in the future conversations I want to sort of … people are fascinated by that type of thing, and it’s an intriguing challenge about how we get more entrepreneurs to help grow things. Really appreciate the work you’re doing, and thank you for being on the show with us.

TM: Thank you for having me, and thanks for the great questions and, yeah, the fun time. Thank you.