BROOKLYN, NY.— (February 2, 2023), – Agricultural industry leader, John McLean, was recently announced as Zero Gravity’s new CEO, after starting in the role in October 2022. He is passionate about protecting plants and helping farmers feed the world. After stints in senior roles at Monsanto and Intrexon, John is taking the helm of Zero Gravity to expand its innovative plant priming technology. Read on to learn more about his experience and new role at the company.
How did you come to join Zero Gravity and what do you most look forward to in the role?
I started consulting with Zero Gravity two years ago, partnering with Rik Miller, current Zero Gravity commercial advisor. After a deep dive into Zero Gravity’s research and the potential of its broad technology platform, I developed a new business strategy to expand commercialization and IP opportunities, and was asked by the board to execute this strategy. I look forward to improving the sustainability of crop agriculture via the broad adoption of plant priming.
What are a few of your biggest learnings about the value of regenerative and sustainable agriculture you took from your time at Intrexon and Monsanto?
Products and technologies which are closely aligned with both consumer demands and farmer economics have an easier path to broad market adoption. Technologies which leverage the natural evolutionary intelligence of plant genetics (such as breeding and priming) are well accepted and support the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices.
Are there problems in agriculture or food security that you’re particularly motivated to solve?
The global demand for safe and healthy food continues to increase, even as population growth is slowing. There is no sustainable way to make more land available for farming, so there is large economic pressure to intensify production practices (more plants, more yield per acre). In combination with the effects of climate change, these practices increase the risk of crop failure and speed the development of resistant insects and plant diseases. Farmers, scientists, governments and consumers must work together to develop and adopt more sustainable food production systems. Getting the most out of natural plant genetics is a good foundation upon which to build regenerative systems.
Zero Gravity uses priming technology to help plants be more resilient. What parallels do you see between priming and human health?
Perhaps the best analogy is that with human interferons. Interferons do not directly attack human disease, but instead, they strengthen our immune system to allow us to better fight a broad range of stress and/or disease. Plants have also evolved a natural immune system, but like our own immune system, its response to stress and disease is often too slow or too weak. Like human interferons, priming technology can proactively stimulate a plant’s natural defenses against a multitude of stressors, allowing it to more rapidly and powerfully respond to its environment.
How can an organization go from having a novel technology like priming, to having a real business impact for farmers? What are the most important factors?
Credibility with farmers, scientists, governments and consumers is built through field trials, peer reviewed research and growing commercial acceptance. Integrating new technology like priming into existing agricultural production is also crucial — this can be achieved by partnering with key providers of existing farming products, including seeds, fertilizers, biologicals and pesticides. Allying with agricultural NGOs and growers on the ground is also invaluable. This allows us to conceptualize and test products with partners, and learn how to create them with fewer, less costly inputs.