Earlham Institute spinout TraitSeq to transform agricultural sector

30 April 2024
A field of bright green young cereal crops photographed at a low angle at sunset

A new spin-out company is set to transform the agricultural sector by revolutionising plant and animal breeding, as well as the development of inputs such as agrochemicals, biostimulants, biologicals, and plant nutrients.

TraitSeq, the first spin-out company to come from the Earlham Institute in Norwich, accelerates and derisks the development of complex traits - such as water use efficiency, tolerance to stress, improved taste, and nutrient use - and novel agricultural inputs that interact with plant genetics.

These enhanced traits and inputs are enormously beneficial to farmers but, using conventional practices, have been notoriously difficult and time-consuming to develop.

TraitSeq combines artificial intelligence (AI) and transcriptomic expertise to provide accurate and robust RNA-based biomarkers for complex genetic traits and gene-input interactions in agriculture. This informs the accelerated development and enhancement of those desirable traits, paving the way for the creation of high-yielding, climate-resilient crops and novel agricultural inputs.

The cutting-edge approach can be applied in plant breeding, livestock breeding, and agricultural input development, benefitting both global food security and the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices.

Joshua Colmer, CEO and Co-founder of TraitSeq, said: “TraitSeq has the potential to be transformational - not just for crop improvement but for a range of applications that we’re excited to be exploring.

“I’m confident TraitSeq will hugely benefit the sector - whether that’s guiding breeding programmes, identifying gene editing targets, or accelerating crop input development.”

The technical basis for TraitSeq was developed during Joshua Colmer’s PhD project at the Earlham Institute, which was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI, through an Industrial CASE Award. 

Professor Anthony Hall, Head of Plant Genomics at the Earlham Institute and Co-Founder of TraitSeq, said:  “There are many complex traits in plants that breeders would love to be able to select for. But, until now, the tools simply haven’t existed to do this reliably. 

“TraitSeq uses cutting-edge, machine learning algorithms and bioinformatics tools for detecting biomarkers, and producing trait prediction models using transcriptomic data.

“We can identify biomarkers for traits that help mitigate or build resilience to climate change, such as water use efficiency, which will accelerate the development of new crops that can cope with the environmental challenges of the future.

“And the early-stage evaluation of gene edits could significantly improve the efficiency and speed of validation, while also reducing cost.”

John Bloomer, Director and Co-founder of TraitSeq, an agritech commercial leader with over 30 years of experience in the agrochemical, ag-biotech, and seeds industry said: “What excites me is TraitSeq’s ability to accurately predict field performance of new agritech products while they are still at a very early stage in the glasshouse.

“This will accelerate our customers’ product development process and improve their R&D success rate, bringing new products to the market faster and at lower cost.”

Having seen the enormous potential in this PhD project, Colmer and Professor Hall worked with the Earlham Institute’s Business Development and Impact team and Earlham Enterprises Ltd - the Earlham Institute’s commercial arm - to develop the idea into a new venture, securing a range of funding and support on the journey to spinning out.

Dr Liliya Serazetdinova, Head of Business Development and Impact at the Earlham Institute, said: “TraitSeq is a great example of how we’re translating our cutting-edge science into real-world applications which will have an impact on agriculture and other sectors.

“Josh has the spirit of innovation and enterprise, and is now inspiring other researchers and students to look at their research from a different angle of generating new value for the society.

“We’re delighted to announce the formation of our first spinout company and looking forward to collaborating with the team at TraitSeq in the future to realise the potential of Earlham Institute research.”

Notes to editors.

For media enquiries, please contact: 

Greg Bowker, Earlham Institute: 01603 450 895 or greg.bowker@earlham.ac.uk

Felicity Knowles, TraitSeq: felicity.knowles@traitseq.com

The original technology that underpins TraitSeq was developed during Joshua Colmer’s PhD project at the Earlham Institute, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI, through the National Productivity Investment Fund Studentships (NPIF) Industrial CASE Award between 1st October 2018 and 31st September 2022, supervised by Professor Anthony Hall at the Earlham Institute, and further co-developed jointly with Professor Anthony Hall between 1st October 2022 and to 1st August 2023.

The Earlham Institute’s Business Development and Impact (BDI) team encouraged Joshua and Anthony to pitch their idea at a “Dragon’s Den” meeting with Non-exec Directors of the Earlham Enterprises Ltd Board, and they saw potential for a spinout. One of the “Dragons”, John Bloomer, was so impressed with the potential of TraitSeq that he agreed to join Joshua and Anthony as a Co-founder of TraitSeq Ltd.

The BDI team and John recognised the potential in Colmer’s project, supporting him and Professor Hall with market research, pre-seed grant funding applications, and value proposition development through a successful BBSRC Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) programme. The ICURe programme confirmed TraitSeq’s significant commercial value via engagement with a range of potential clients in the agritech industry.


About the Earlham Institute

The Earlham Institute is a hub of life science research, training, and innovation focused on understanding the natural world through the lens of genomics.

Embracing the full breadth of life on Earth, our scientists specialise in developing and testing the latest tools and approaches needed to decode living systems and make predictions about biology.

The Earlham Institute is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI, as well as support from other research funders.

@EarlhamInst  /  Earlham Institute


About TraitSeq Ltd

TraitSeq Ltd was co-founded in 2023 by Dr Joshuaua Colmer, Professor Anthony Hall, and Mr John Bloomer, as a spin-out from the Earlham Institute. It applies cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) to accurately predict complex agricultural traits, for the development of high-yielding and climate-resilient crop varieties, animal breeds, agrochemical and biological inputs, and gene edits that are critical to global food security and sustainable food production.

TraitSeq is a low-cost, high throughput, platform technology that uses bespoke machine learning methods to identify biomarkers that are utilised for training predictive models for complex traits in agriculture. TraitSeq’s trait prediction models achieve beyond state-of-the-art levels of accuracy and can incorporate environmental variation – enabling highly accurate trait performance predictions in the field.