Scentian Bio: Developing Biosensors That Mimic Smell Receptors From Insects

By Amit Chowdhry ● Jan 12, 2024

Scentian Bio is a company developing biosensors that mimic the incredible smell receptors from insects to deliver a super-sensitive, real-time measurement of smell and taste. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Scentian Bio CEO Jonathan Good to learn more about the company. 

Jonathan Good’s Background

Good has a background in business and entrepreneurship. And Good said:

“Having studied the economics of innovation as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, I worked for McKinsey & Company based in New York. I then co-founded 1000memories, a tech start-up in the Bay Area that was part of Y Combinator and raised our Series A from Greylock before exiting to Ancestry.com. More recently, I have worked in senior leadership roles in leading New Zealand businesses while also mentoring early-stage entrepreneurs. It is through this mentoring at Sprout Agritech that I met Andrew Kralicek, Scentian Bio’s founder, and CTO when he was still an employee at Plant & Food Research, New Zealand’s elite government research agency.”

Formation Of Scentian Bio

Andrew Kralicek discussing the work of scentian bio with the team

 How did the idea for Scentian Bio come together? Good shared:

“Scentian Bio’s founder and CTO, Andrew Kralicek, has worked for 20 years at Plant & Food Research to understand and emulate insect olfaction. Andrew’s PhD and post-doctoral studies led him to  the opportunity to sense the world in a new, rich way through chemosensory sensing.”

“There was a moment when he first got an insect odorant receptor to work on a biosensor that led to the realization that we had an opportunity to use these receptors for all kinds of exciting applications well beyond just a research tool to understand how insects smell. Over many years of research, the potential applications became more and more diverse. As part of the Sprout Agritech mentoring, spin-out, and subsequent strategy work, we formulated this as a biosensing platform with applications across food, environment, health, and wellness.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Good’s favorite memory working for Scentian Bio so far? Good reflected:

“We have had a lot of great memories already. A stand-out is when we saw the first responses in our lab to the very first biomarker we tested. We were all thrilled to see the signals on the screen in real-time, spotting a disease biomarker in trace concentrations and contemplating the huge impact this could have in the world.”

Challenges Faced

What are some of the challenges you face in building the company? Good acknowledged:

“Building a deep-tech technology has had plenty of challenges. It took many years to be able to synthesize the insect olfactory receptors and many more to generate reliable biosensing from these on a scalable platform technology.”

Core Products

What are Scentian Bio’s core products and features? Good explained:

“Our biosensor includes the synthesized proteins mimicking those that insects use to smell (we aren’t using any insects, just making these incredible proteins to mimic nature) and coupling these with an artificial membrane. This enables us to capture the ion channel openings that are the signals an insect would use to sense the world in incredibly high resolution. Our biosensor is small, portable and easy to use. We combine this with our powerful AI models to deliver fast, clear outcomes to help with immediate actions.”

Evolution Of Scentian Bio’s Technology

How has Scentian Bio’s technology evolved since launching? Good noted:

“Since Scentian Bio was formed, we have explored a number of different sensing platforms. Through this, we have evolved to work on an artificial membrane where we can directly measure the ion channel activity, exactly mimicking how this works in nature. This gives us incredibly rich information – the same information that is flowing to the projection neurons in an insect’s brain. It also means we have a robust, scalable platform that leverages a lot of existing engineering.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of Scentian Bio’s most significant milestones? Good cited:

“We have had a lot! We have built our library of receptors (we now have 59), grown our team (we now have 7 super-talented team members) and secured a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a prototype diagnostic for infectious diseases. Recently securing our Seed round with a fantastic set of investors is another highlight. Overall, seeing the response patterns across the biomarkers of tuberculosis, malaria and Covid-19, as well as food ingredients, is the most significant, as we can see our technology solving real-world problems.”

Funding

After asking Good about the company’s funding information, he revealed: 

“We have received US$4.4 million in funding to date, including grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

Total Addressable Market

What is the total addressable market (TAM) size that Scentian Bio is pursuing? Good assessed:

“Our first focus, the food quality market, is worth around $8 billion per annum. We also see multi-billion dollar opportunities in health and environmental monitoring.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates Scentian Bio from its competition? Good affirmed:

“Today, food companies rely on human sensory and large equipment like GCMS and LCMS for quality control. We can deliver objective results much faster, in a way that is easy to use, with no significant capital outlays and a flexible consumption model. Compared to e-nose’s we are much more sensitive (up to a million times) and able to sense a wider variety of compounds without any drift.”

Biosensing Market Evolution

How do you see the biosensing market evolving over the next five years and where does Scentian Bio fit in? Good replied:

“We believe biosensing will take off over the course of the next five years. And we intend to play a key role in this. We intend to bring biosensing to the food industry and to start to make a difference in the health system with new tools for earlier diagnosis.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of Scentian Bio’s future company goals? Good concluded:

“We are focused on delivering our first product to the market by the end of 2024, providing quality control for food.”