The Sixth Sense: A New Way of Sensing has Become a Commercial Reality

Unravelling the mystery of how insects smell has led to a ground-breaking discovery - a panel of synthesised insect receptors which can be used to create a device to smell and taste chemical compounds. Scentian Bio was formed to create a novel technology for commercial use in medical, food or industrial settings.

Dr Andrew Kralicek spent the past 19 years at Plant & Food Research determining how smell receptors in insects work. These receptors are the result of 400 million years of evolution and enable insects to easily find mates, detect predators, find food, or where to lay eggs. Kralicek’s team investigated whether insect smell receptors could be combined with electronics to create an ‘insect nose/tongue’.

A new technology developed from this research is the basis of new company Scentian Bio.

“We know this technology detects volatile organic chemicals which is the basis of a completely new sensor technology. We discovered that no one else can do this,” explained Dr Kralicek.

“This is deep tech, hard-core science that will have a massive impact as we have developed a tool to detect and analyse complex aroma and taste profiles. That means that we could use the technology to detect variation in water, wine, or food quality for example, or even detect the presence of disease in humans.”

Andrew went through Sprout Agritech’s Accelerator to understand how to commercialise this discovery, which highlighted the need for connected capital to be able to establish this world-leading technology. Scentian Bio is Sprout’s first of 40 investments planned in agtech and foodtech start-ups over the next seven years.

Sprout and Plant & Food Research partnered to spin-out the Scentian Biotechnology with $1 Million investment from Sprout and its investment partners – Finistere Ventures, Fonterra and OurCrowd with funding from Callaghan Innovation’s Tech Incubator Programme. Sprout provided mentoring and start-up expertise to help guide Scentian Bio with approaching customers in the flavour and fragrance sectors where the technology could be used for analysing composition and quality of food ingredients. The global opportunity is worth more than $1 Billion.

“The creation of Scentian Bio is a great milestone for Plant & Food Research and its technology development strategy taking fundamental science through to a point where it can deliver value in the real world,” said David Hughes, Chief Executive of Plant & Food Research.

Scentian Bio is a great example of how ideas from Crown Research Institutes can be developed into a commercial success.

“Scentian Bio is an excellent example of the potential of spinning-out crown research institute IP with specialist agtech and foodtech seed-stage venture capital. We are looking for solutions to the big problems around agtech and foodtech and know that CRIs have potential IP that can be commercialised with the support of Sprout,” commented Warren Bebb, Sprout Investment Manager.