ICL, a specialty minerals company, and Agrematch, an agritech AI start-up, have partnered to find ‘novel crop nutrition solutions’. ICL’s agriculture division, ICL Growing Solutions, will work with Agrematch’s AI, Artificial Intelligence for Active Ingredients (AI4AI), to boost the discovery process of new compounds, which is currently expensive and, according to ICL, stymied by regulations.
As well as the partnership, ICL has led an investment round into Agrematch through its innovation and investment platform, ICL Planet Startup Hub, and offered Agrematch access to R&D agronomists and scientists.
Using AI to hasten discovery
Finding active compounds for products which aid plant nutrition is often a costly and time-consuming process, leading to a reduction in the number of new products found. However, AI can make the process quicker.
“Addressing the urgent need for new active compounds,” Hadar Sutovsky, vice president of External Innovation and general manager of ICL Planet Startup Hub told FoodNavigator, “Agrematch has developed a unique artificial intelligence (AI) predictive system that dramatically reduces the time, costs and risks inherent to the traditional, industry discovery and development.
“Agrematch combined the power of data science and artificial intelligence, in the form of machine and deep learning (ML/DL) algorithms, and their proprietary database with biology, chemistry, and agricultural know-how to create a powerful, integrated AI predictive platform.”
The benefits of the AI are clear: it streamlines the process of discovery, meaning the companies can find more crop solutions during a shorter time-frame by cutting down the possible useful compounds to be analysed by humans.
“Agrematch’s discovery method is unique. With a well-defined product concept plan, training data is loaded to the model generator to create the specific activity model. The system then identifies candidates by running the model’s specific predictive algorithms on billions of compounds residing in Agrematch’s massive proprietary database.
“The output is a shortlist of compound candidates with the predicted desired functionality. The top ranked candidates are then individually analysed by Agrematch scientists and produced to be validated in Agrematch live plant (in-vivo) laboratories. Through an iterative process, compounds which effectively fulfil the desired requirements are selected to become leads for future commercial products.”
The platform works on a compound database currently number at more than six billion, and it is being expanded to 150 billion. The AI is also flexible, and is able to find compounds that work with most crops.
As well as speed, another key aspect of AI is that it can learn. Learning is a vital part of AI4AI as well. “In addition to finding desired compounds’ bioactivity, the system is designed to predict and characterize many important compound attributes (functions), that are required for a compound to become a product,” Sutovsky told us.
“Toxicity profile, mode of action, environmental impact, and cost of goods sold are only some of the critical aspects in the product’s creation process. Traditionally, for cost reasons, these aspects are addressed much later in the development process. By predicting these factors early, and only choosing compounds which have better probability to become products, Agrematch accelerates the process while greatly mitigating the downstream development risk.”
The AI helps speed up the discovery of the compounds. But what of the compounds themselves? How do they help to improve agricultural practices?
“Crop nutrition products found by AI4AI can vary from nutrient use efficiency (NUE) to solutions used to optimize overall plant and soil health, bio-stimulants, for maximizing plant yield, quality and durability,” Sutovsky tells us.
Agrematch has already made progress in discovering compounds. “Agrematch discovered and developed, in less than 12 months, a novel natural herbicide. This herbicide is effective against commercially important crop weeds, including strains resistant to widely used synthetic herbicides.”
As well as its money and resources, ICL’s expertise will also aid Agrematch. “ICL's advanced knowledge of fertilizer use and farmers’ needs will facilitate the development of new and innovative products for the agriculture industry,” Sutovsky told us.
“By harnessing Agrematch’s AI/ML expertise and cutting-edge technology alongside ICL's market reach, advanced agriculture innovation centers, agronomical knowledge, field trial capabilities, state of the art R&D laboratories and global manufacturing facilities, we will accelerate this long-term program novel crop nutrition solutions.”
While based in Israel, Agrematch is collaborating with EU-based customers as well, alongside those based in the US and the rest of Asia.