Ascribe Bioscience Awarded $3 Million to Make Microgreens Safer for Consumers 

Trays of microgreens being seeded.

Ascribe Bioscience Awarded $3 Million to Make Microgreens Safer for Consumers 

Ascribe Bioscience's logo. The word "abscribe" in dark green lower case letters. The i looks like a plant growing.

Ascribe Bioscience, an I-Corps alumni, has received a $3 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.   

The agriculture technology startup, which completed UNY I-Corps Node’s Ag-Corps regional course, an I-Corps Regional Course at Cornell University, and NSF’s I-Corps Bootcamp, has developed a novel seed treatment technology to prevent bacterial contamination in edible sprouts and microgreens—a major source of foodborne illnesses.  

Sprouts and microgreens are highly prone to contamination with human enteric bacterial pathogens, such as Salmonella, which are sometimes present as contaminants on seeds. As the seeds sprout, these pathogens proliferate exponentially in the warm and humid growing conditions, leading to unsafe levels of pathogens contaminating the crops.  

Because the bacteria can contaminate the sprout tissue from the inside, the application of antimicrobial products on edible sprouts has proven largely ineffective. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, no single treatment has demonstrated an ability to eliminate pathogens on seeds or sprouts.   

Ascribe’s innovative solution utilizes a natural molecule that acts like a vaccine for plants and helps the sprouts defend against the proliferation of disease-causing pathogens in their tissues.  

With the new funding, Ascribe plans to optimize its treatment technology, expand testing, and work toward large-scale production of its active ingredient. 

“Ascribe’s technology represents a novel and safe solution to the vexing problem of food-borne pathogens. We’re excited by potential applications to improve consumer safety of sprouts and other important crops,” said Jay Farmer, CEO, and co-founder.  

Ascribe was founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Jay Farmer (Cornell Ph.D.’ 98) and Murli Manohar, then a researcher at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University. The startup’s technology was initially discovered in the labs of Cornell and BTI professors Frank Schroeder (College of Arts and Sciences) and Daniel Klessig (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences).  

In 2018, the startup completed an I-Corps Regional Course where the team conducted valuable market research; and continued its customer discovery efforts in Ag-Corps, a UNY I-Corps Node regional course that provided participants working on ag tech solutions with the opportunity to interview potential customers. 

“The I-Corps programs were critical in helping us understand the customer segment, as well as the market for Ascribe’s technology, and help build lasting relationships with several advisors,” said Murli Manohar, CTO, and co-founder.  

Since then, Ascribe Bioscience has received $225,000 SBIR Phase I and $750,000 Phase II awards from the National Science Foundation. Last November, the startup won $500,000 in the Grow-NY Food & Agriculture business competition and closed a $2.5 million seed round led by the venture capital firms The Yield Lab and Acre Venture Partners.