DNA barcoding technology wins Guelph innovation competition

Gryphon’s LAAIR program helps bring research ideas, many connected to agriculture, to market

University of Guelph’s Malcolm Campbell, left, who is vice-president of research, and Sherri Cox, right, executive director of research innovation and knowledge mobilization, flank pitch competition winner Sujeevan Ratnasingham, founder of LifeScanner.
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A food fraud detector won the top prize at the inaugural Gryphon’s LAAIR innovation showcase and pitch competition at the University of Guelph.

LifeScanner was selected by an industry judging panel as the winner of the $7,500 grand prize from six corporations in the competition, all with University of Guelph research roots. It was hosted by the Research Innovation Office and the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

Why it matters: Pitch competitions help get exposure and funding for agriculture and food startup companies.

The LifeScanner Species Identification Kit is the lead product of Biolytica Inc. and uses DNA barcoding technology to identify anything from insects and food to fur and animal tissue.

The kit is expected to have commercial use to help reduce food fraud, especially for fish. A restaurant or wholesaler can purchase the quick tester and then be certain of the type of fish that was actually received.

Led by Sujeevan Ratnasingham, LifeScanner spun out of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph.

At the same event, We Vitro Inc. was chosen as the People’s Choice winner, taking home a $5,000 prize. The We Vitro growth system is a low labour, low maintenance and space-saving plant tissue culture device aimed at growers who need such a plant propagation system. The company believes its first market will be large scale cannabis producers and their needs for product consistency. The company evolved out of research at Guelph’s Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation.

Also participating in the pitch competition were FloNergia Inc., inventor of airlift pumps that substantially reduce energy use in aquaculture, hydroponic, and aquaponic production systems; eQcell Inc., that is behind stem cell therapies for horses; Griffinix and their artificial intelligence-based cyber security system; and SP Nutraceuticals Inc. which is working with the molecule Avocatin B, derived from avocados, which has demonstrated an ability to kill leukemia stem cells, delay the onset of insulin resistance and aid in weight loss developing novel food and plant-based products.

Gryphon’s LAAIR (Leading to the Accelerated Adoption of Innovative Research) is a funding program of the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance that was first launched five years ago by the provincial government and the University of Guelph to help researchers shepherd their discoveries through the often lengthy and cumbersome commercialization process.

According to the university’s Research Innovation Office, the program has supported more than 50 Guelph projects to date — and some of its biggest stars have been making headlines as their innovations reach the marketplace.

One of the most well-known of Gryphon’s LAAIR alumnus is Mirexus Inc., a Guelph-based company that evolved out of research led by John Dutcher. Dutcher discovered minuscule plant glycogen particles in sweet corn that make them ideal for use in cosmetics with a particular focus on anti-aging, pharmaceuticals, food and nutraceuticals.

First launched in 2008, Mirexus opened its newly built facilities in Guelph last fall, and is estimated to need 4,500 acres of sweet corn production annually to meet demand for its novel nanotechnology PhytoSpherix. Customers are already using PhytoSpherix in cosmetic and personal care products in Canada, the European Union and Asia.

Bonnie Mallard is the well-known Guelph inventor of the High Immune Response (HIR) and Immunity+ Technology that identifies animals with natural immunity and enhanced disease resistance. First patented for use in dairy cattle, Mallard is now using the technology to help solve one of the most common and costly beef cattle diseases, Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD).

Ten new Gryphon’s LAAIR projects were announced as funding recipients at the event, receiving a total of $420,000 in grant money. The goal of the funding, noted Guelph’s executive director of Research Innovation and Knowledge Mobilization Sherri Cox, is to help budding entrepreneurs identify target markets and test their concepts with end users, as well as support product development.

Three projects — compostable vegetable packaging made from Ontario waste starch, development of a soy-based fermented cheese-type product and plant-based meat alternatives — each received $100,000 in product development funding.

The remaining recipients were each awarded $20,000 for what is billed as market validation work, and include projects like evaluating the market potential for a maple syrup protein capsule and for protein-rich peach crisps and powders, and looking at consumer perceptions and buying patterns related to smart food packaging.

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