Investment Notes: Nbryo

Global demand for beef and dairy continues to grow, and livestock industries are under enormous pressure to simultaneously improve production efficiency alongside lowering emissions intensity and improving ecological sustainability.

But reducing emissions from livestock, especially methane, is a tough problem to solve at scale. 

As we’ve scanned and mapped the solution space over the last few years, we’ve seen most focus on methane-reducing feed supplements. Yet, these interventions are costly, don’t easily apply to extensive systems, and lack additional productivity benefits. These challenges pose big barriers to scalability. 

In contrast, genetic improvement offers an ideal solution- a combination of productivity and sustainability benefits, in a paradigm that’s already familiar to producers. However, the timeframes to adoption across multi-tier livestock systems always seemed inconsistent with our model as venture capital investors. Until now.

Introducing our 14th investment: NBryo - from 7 years to 7 days

Introducing Nbryo, our 14th investment, an Australian company transforming beef and dairy production systems globally through bio-digital technologies. Nbryo will enable livestock producers to achieve in 7 days what used to take 7 years of genetic improvement.

How genetic improvement works today

The cornerstone of progress and productivity in livestock is genetic improvement, but not all types of livestock operations have access to the same technologies. 

At the production level, selective breeding is used. Producers work to understand the genetic profile (i.e., measurable performance characteristics) of their livestock, and then buy bulls (or rams, etc.) that mate with their existing animals. This improves the genetics of the herd, but it’s very slow. A typical well run genetic improvement program today would deliver a genetic gain of about 1.5 to 2% change per year at best, meaning that over 7 years, a producer would see a little more than 10% change in a trait or an index of traits.

Studs, or breeding operations that sell bulls to commercial producers, use a range of more advanced - and more expensive - technologies to improve the genetic profile of their stock, from artificial insemination(the other AI) to transfer of embryos. 

While transfer of in vitro production (IVP) embryos ensures a more reliable genetic outcome, there are limitations that prevent it from scaling to commercial beef and dairy producers. In addition to cost, transfers require highly skilled practitioners in the field, and pregnancy rates are often too low (<50%). 

Nbryo challenges the current genetic improvement landscape by asking, why should the best and fastest kind of genetic improvement - IVP - be limited to elite operations? 

The Nbryo solution

Nbryo is developing a four-part suite of technologies that democratizes access to rapid genetic improvement:

  • Genetic selection- Reliably identify embryos of desired sex and breeding values, including lower methane traits
  • Embryo production- Novel embryo development technology enables low-cost, high-scale production of high quality embryos
  • Transfer process- Enhanced embryo transfer and improved preservation and logistics will substantially reduce costs and remove skill barriers
  • Data analysis - Advanced analytics to enable insights not currently available in the sector

Why we love it

Commercially viable solutions to meet sustainability pressures in livestock must have productivity benefits, as there aren’t sufficient margins anywhere in the value chain to support a system wide increase in the price of production, and government and industry support alone will be insufficient.

Nbryo is improving productivity and environmental outcomes in three ways. First, accelerating genetic improvement unlocks productivity increases and reduces the environmental impact per unit of livestock produced. Second, deciding the type of calf a cow can produce means that an enterprise can restructure their whole breeding operation, generally resulting in fewer breeding cows being required to get the same outcomes. This has a meaningful impact on reducing the production of low value animals such as bobby calves. And finally, Nbryo will enable producers to select animals directly which have lower methane and higher productivity at scale at the embryo stage.

We are also excited about the Nbryo team, and their unique combination of industry and commercialization experience. The concept for Nbryo arose from learnings gained during over 15 years of commercial embryo transfer and genomics R&D conducted at Nindooinbah – an elite beef breeding property in regional Queensland, Australia. Today, the company is led by CEO Gerard Davis, formerly the founder of Catapult Genetics, a global leader in application of molecular diagnostics in animals (acquired by Pfizer Inc.). 

Early traction and what’s ahead for Nbryo

Since commencing with its first research project in 2021, Nbryo now collaborates with universities, companies, and other institutions across Australia, New Zealand, India, Kenya, and the USA, with research funded by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Early trials of Nbryo’s technology have yielded successful outcomes all the way through to calves on the ground in late 2022. The company is now undertaking extensive trials in commercial beef and dairy herds in Australia and New Zealand. Success of these pilot trials will lead to making the first version of the Nbryo platform available commercially in the second half of 2024. 

For open roles, visit the Nbryo careers page.

For more information on Tenacious Ventures and the kinds of companies we’re looking to partner with, check out pathways to impact and scale, theory of change, and our investment mandate. You can sign up for our weekly insights on building a climate resilient future of food and agriculture here.

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