I’m sometimes asked where the name Enko comes from – and what it has to do with chemistry. The word is core to our mission and technology.
In Dutch, Enko means “encode.” (Enko was founded with Anterra Capital, a leading agtech VC based in the Netherlands – hence the Dutch word.) It refers to the unique barcodes of information attached to molecules within DNA-encoded libraries—a technology used in human drug discovery that we're pioneering in crop health. These DNA barcodes are key for us to explore new chemical spaces and find potential solutions.
The natural power of chemistry
Our goal at Enko is to discover new, safe and effective chemistries that farmers can use to protect their fields from pests, superweeds and diseases. Chemistry plays a critical role in all natural systems: it controls biology, connecting biological systems to each other and to their environments. Take, for example, the chemical ascorbate (Vitamin C), which is essential to the production of collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals – making ascorbate a key building block of our cells and bodies.
The vast diversity in chemical matter orchestrates growth and development of these biological systems with great specificity, selectivity and precision. That diversity is what makes chemistry so powerful. For instance, it’s estimated that there are 10^60 undiscovered molecules (more than there are stars in the universe!). Some of those molecules could become drugs and solve most human health problems. Chemistry has enormous promise to protect crop health in new ways, too. But in both cases, this vast chemical universe is mostly untapped and difficult to access.
Tapping into DNA barcodes
Enko is the first company to build a dedicated target-based discovery platform to exclusively tap into this untouched chemical universe for agriculture. DNA-encoded libraries make this possible by giving us access to 140 billion molecules – a chemical space 15,000 times larger than what other companies can access.
Connected to each molecule is a DNA barcode that identifies its properties. Up to a trillion molecules can be stored in a single test tube using this method. We screen these molecules against our target proteins to see which molecules bind during the discovery process. Artificial intelligence helps us quickly scan the DNA barcodes of every reactive molecule and learn more about their unique characteristics. Then, a toolkit of technologies like computational biology and machine learning helps us make sense of the data and zoom in on molecules that show the most promise in crop health.
Our unique know-how about the molecules that are best for agricultural applications helps us select which ones to scan. For example, features of certain molecules make it easier for a weed to absorb and send them to the target enzyme. By screening billions of molecules with a matrix of properties, we can discover novel leads that are safer and more effective for protecting crops than existing products. By comparison, it would take nearly 60,000 years for industry’s conventional high throughput screening to evaluate all of the molecules in our library.
Each molecule’s unique DNA barcode helps us open up the world of chemical diversity that was previously not accessible to discovery due to volume, time, and cost. That’s why it’s important to everything we do – so important that we named the company after it!
Jacqueline Heard, CEO and founder
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Enko collaborate on novel crop protection.
First in a series defining commonly used concepts and phrases relating to modern agriculture.