Ohmic Biosciences - Genetically engineering disease-resistant plants

Unraveling Ohmic Biosciences: Revolutionizing Agriculture with Genetically Engineered Disease-Resistant Plants

The world's population is steadily growing, and with it, the demand for food continues to surge. However, a significant challenge threatens our agricultural endeavors - the relentless onslaught of plant diseases. Pests and pathogens not only jeopardize crop yields but also wreak havoc on global economies. Traditional solutions, such as agrochemicals, have been faltering in the face of evolving pathogens. Enter Ohmic Biosciences, a startup that's harnessing the power of genetic engineering to fortify plants against diseases. In this comprehensive exploration, we dive deep into the world of Ohmic Biosciences, its founders, and the groundbreaking solutions they are crafting to tackle crop disease resistance.

Who Are the Visionaries Behind Ohmic Biosciences?

PJ Steiner: The Synthesizer of Biology and Code

PJ Steiner, one of the co-founders of Ohmic Biosciences, is a remarkable polymath with a diverse background in science and technology. Armed with a solid foundation in computer science from MIT, where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree, Steiner embarked on a journey of scientific exploration. His academic sojourn led him to Cambridge and UCSD, where he obtained a Ph.D. in synthetic biology.

Before co-founding Ohmic Biosciences, Steiner spent two years as a scientist at Bolt Threads, a company renowned for engineering yeast to produce proteins. His expertise in protein engineering and synthetic biology was further honed during his postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he joined forces with his future co-founder, Matthew Bedewitz.

At the University of Colorado Boulder, Steiner worked on a groundbreaking DARPA project aimed at transforming plants into chemical biosensors. This project sowed the seeds of Ohmic Biosciences, a company with a mission to confer disease resistance upon plants through the magic of genetic engineering.

Matthew Bedewitz: The Plant Biochemist on a Quest for Disease Resistance

Matthew Bedewitz, the other half of the Ohmic Biosciences founding duo, boasts an impressive background in plant biochemistry and genetics. His journey began with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture Science and continued with a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology at Michigan State University.

Bedewitz's doctoral research delved into the characterization of enzymes related to tropane alkaloid production, a critical aspect of nerve agent antidotes and stimulants like cocaine. However, his true calling came when he joined forces with PJ Steiner during a DARPA protein engineering project. This collaboration laid the groundwork for the formation of Ohmic Biosciences, a company with a mission to combat crop disease resistance head-on.

What Is Ohmic Biosciences and What Problem Does It Address?

Ohmic Biosciences: The Vanguard of Genetic Engineering for Disease-Resistant Plants

Ohmic Biosciences is a startup that has set its sights on a noble and ambitious goal: genetically engineering plants to be resistant to diseases. Their revolutionary approach harnesses the power of protein engineering to create resistance traits in any plant species, effectively bolstering their defense mechanisms against pathogens.

The traditional methods of combating plant diseases have fallen short in recent years. The overuse of agrochemicals has led to diminishing returns, as pathogens evolve resistance to these chemicals. Additionally, the slow and expensive process of commercializing agrochemicals hampers their efficacy.

Genetic resistance traits offer a promising alternative, eliminating the need for chemical sprays. However, they are not without their challenges. Typically, genetic resistance traits either work exceptionally well but are prone to pathogen evolution or are robust against pathogen evolution but less effective.

This predicament stems from a fundamental limitation in current plant breeding and biotechnology practices. These methods rely on the hope that the desired genes already exist in nature, essentially embarking on a quest to locate them. Ohmic Biosciences has taken a bold step away from this conventional approach.

How Does Ohmic Biosciences Overcome the Limitations of Traditional Methods?

Engineering Resistance: The Ohmic Biosciences Approach

Ohmic Biosciences distinguishes itself through its innovative approach. Rather than relying on the natural existence of desired genes, they have adopted a proactive stance as protein engineers. Armed with a deep understanding of the traits they seek to instill in plants, they are engineering these traits themselves.

Plant pathogens face an arduous task when attempting to infect a plant. They must breach the plant's formidable cell wall and subdue its innate immune system. Pathogens accomplish these feats by secreting a suite of effector proteins that wreak havoc on the plant. Ohmic Biosciences counters this strategy by engineering proteins that neutralize these effectors, effectively disarming plant diseases.

Their initial focus lies on the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), a minuscule yet devastating parasitic worm that has infested the United States. This stealthy root parasite inflicts annual yield losses exceeding $1.5 billion, and this figure may be an underestimation, as SCN often operates covertly, causing hidden damage without conspicuous above-ground symptoms.

The Birth of Ohmic Biosciences: A Tale of Scientific Passion and Vision

The story behind the founding of Ohmic Biosciences is a testament to the power of collaboration, shared expertise, and a relentless drive to address one of the most pressing challenges in agriculture - crop diseases. At the heart of this remarkable journey are the founders, PJ Steiner and Matthew Bedewitz, whose serendipitous meeting during their postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado Boulder marked the genesis of a groundbreaking venture.

A Convergence of Expertise

PJ Steiner, a multifaceted scientist with a background in computer science, synthetic biology, and protein engineering, brought a unique set of skills to the partnership. His academic journey, which began at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree in computer science, took an exciting turn when he delved into the realm of synthetic biology. Steiner's thirst for knowledge led him to pursue a Ph.D. in synthetic biology at Cambridge University, followed by postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

While at MIT, Steiner honed his computer science expertise, laying the groundwork for his future endeavors in the realm of genetic engineering. This blend of computational and biological prowess positioned him as a formidable force in the field of synthetic biology, an asset that would prove invaluable in the journey of Ohmic Biosciences.

On the other side of this visionary partnership was Matthew Bedewitz, whose background in plant genetics, biochemistry, and horticulture science complemented Steiner's expertise seamlessly. Bedewitz embarked on his academic journey with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture Science, setting the stage for his deep dive into the intricate world of plant biology.

Bedewitz's academic odyssey reached new heights with a Ph.D. in Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology at Michigan State University. It was during his doctoral research that Bedewitz explored the characterization of enzymes linked to tropane alkaloid production, a critical aspect of nerve agent antidotes and stimulants like cocaine. This research not only showcased his dedication to scientific exploration but also hinted at the profound impact he would have in the realm of genetic engineering.

A Serendipitous Collaboration

The destinies of PJ Steiner and Matthew Bedewitz converged at the University of Colorado Boulder, where they embarked on a collaborative journey that would ultimately lead to the birth of Ohmic Biosciences. Their initial connection was facilitated by a shared project focused on engineering plant hormone receptors into biosensors.

Over the span of 2.5 years, the duo worked tirelessly, leveraging their collective knowledge and skills to push the boundaries of genetic engineering. While PJ Steiner's background in computer science and synthetic biology provided a strong foundation for designing and manipulating genetic elements, Matthew Bedewitz's expertise in plant genetics and biochemistry offered invaluable insights into the intricacies of plant biology.

The Spark of Vision

Beyond their professional synergy, what truly set Steiner and Bedewitz apart was their shared passion for scientific exploration and a compelling vision to combat the formidable challenge of crop diseases. This vision was not merely a lofty aspiration; it was grounded in their deep understanding of the potential of genetic engineering to transform the agricultural landscape.

Their experiences and expertise had armed them with the knowledge that traditional methods of disease control were falling short, and the world needed innovative solutions. Together, they envisioned a future where plants could be fortified against diseases through cutting-edge genetic engineering techniques, thus ensuring food security in a world grappling with an ever-growing population and the challenges posed by climate change.

The formation of Ohmic Biosciences represented the culmination of their shared passion, expertise, and vision. It was a journey that began with two scientists crossing paths during their postdoctoral work, and it would evolve into a pioneering endeavor with the potential to revolutionize agriculture and safeguard our global food supply.


Ohmic Biosciences, founded in 2021 by PJ Steiner and Matthew Bedewitz, represents a beacon of hope in the agricultural landscape. By marrying the fields of synthetic biology, protein engineering, and plant genetics, this startup is on a mission to revolutionize the way we combat crop diseases. Their approach, rooted in proactive genetic engineering, challenges the limitations of traditional methods and offers a promising path towards disease-resistant plants. As the world grapples with the ever-growing demand for food security and the challenges posed by climate change, Ohmic Biosciences emerges as a visionary force poised to fortify our agricultural systems and safeguard our future harvests.