Parallax: Speeding Science to Market Through Data
March 11, 2020

Meet Professor Stephen Dellaporta – Scientific Advisory Board Member

Meet Stephen Dellaporta, Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University and Founder of Verinomics, a genomics and computational biology company serving the agriculture industry.  Dr. Dellaporta is one of the members of the Pebble Labs Scientific Advisory Board and is invaluable to our growth and leadership.

Dr. Dellaporta has been a researcher and educator in genetics, genomics and molecular biology his entire career. At Yale, he teaches genetics and founded courses in molecular biology and the human genomics. His research at Yale is focused on innovations in plant genomics and computational biology.

Dr. Dellaporta has served on numerous boards, in consulting roles and in various advisory capacities, including an esteemed period on the board for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the oldest Ag Station in the U.S.  The Station operates research labs and farms and they are credited with breakthrough science on West Nile and Lyme Disease and creation of hybrid corn, among other significant scientific contributions.

What Is Verinomics? Tell Us A Little About Why You Founded That Company?

Verinomics is a genomics and computational biology company serving the agricultural industry. Our goal is to help address food security challenges through genomics and computational biology. We assist clients to identify traits, apply genomics on a population level, develop marker to accelerate breeding efforts and other analyses with the goal of increasing the efficiency of the breeding process. Our company exists to transform our agriculture and food production with genomics and data analytics.

How Did You Get Involved In Genomics And Computational Biology?

Since my undergraduate days, I have always been interested in plant biology and genetics. I have had many opportunities in my career – including as a post doc when I was offered an invitation to start the plant molecular biology group at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, NY.  That opportunity afforded me the privilege to work with Dr. Barbara McClintock, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology for the discovery of genetic transposition.

I was later offered a teaching position at Yale University, which I accepted and moved my laboratory to Connecticut, where I have been for the last 25 years. My research has focused primarily on plant genetics, genomics and computational biology.  We use these tools  to understand plant development and to create applications to improve food security.

What Do You Think Is Next For Agriculture As An Industry?

We are faced with many challenges today. With global population increasing, we must produce much more food and in order to do that, we have to either cultivate more land for crops, or make the crops we have more productive.  Most importantly, we are faced with emerging threats to food security.  The situation is similar to the current pandemic – high virulent and infectious pathogens are devastating crops no known resistance.  We need solutions that can rapidly respond to these threats.  This is what excites me about Pebble.  It has developed a platform that is can respond rapidly and effectively to these emerging threats to our food security.

Agriculture is a complex science.  I believe that in the next decade we will see decisions in agriculture that are data driven and products developed using cutting edge scientific solutions. Just as data and machine learning are creating more efficiency and targeting in other industries, the development of technology, computer science, genomics and statistical approaches to steer agriculture will become the future.

Previously, there was a primary focus on creating more yield, which was best for farmers. But now agriculture will need to really focus on consumer traits and develop crops with approaches that result in more nutritious and healthy foods, less impact to the environment and can become a solution for food security.

You Have Been Involved In Many Amazing Opportunities In Your Career, What Do You Believe Is Your Most Important Work To Date?

Being a scientist and an educator is a privilege. I am honored to have been given that opportunity.

My work has evolved over the years and I have participated in some amazing scientific discoveries. But I would have to say my most important contribution is the people I have trained. I am proud to see that they all have successful careers in the field.

Why Work With Pebble Labs? What Is It About This Opportunity That Makes It A Priority For You?

I have always been interested in how science can help meet the challenge to supply the food we need. And, I believe that nutrition is the first and foremost way of staying healthy. I am biased to focus on the availability of healthy, nutritious food as a means of avoiding disease and suffering, versus just using biomedicals to address disease after the fact.

When I first looked at Pebble Labs’ technology, I thought it seemed too good to be true. In the past, a huge amount of money was spent on RNA based biologics in the agriculture, but the cost of producing RNA was not economically feasible for scale needed for global food production.

I was very excited to see that Pebble Labs’ Directed Biotics platform looked at all of the limitations of RNA technology and addressed and overcame each one of these.  Pebble Labs has discovered an extremely effective solution for producing RNAi and delivering it to plants to combat disease at commercial scale.

I believe that Pebble Labs is positioned to have a major impact worldwide at controlling diseases in agriculture and ultimately, on food security. I want to be part of that.