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Phylagen Tackles Traceability by Tracking Supply Chain Dust

Achieving transparency in global supply chains is a growing priority across industries, as companies and consumers want more information about provenance.

In the apparel, textile and footwear sectors, a significant portion of the raw materials and finished goods are sourced and manufactured in places with substandard working conditions and wages, questionable resource management and difficult means of tracking the handling of products.

Phylagen, a San Francisco-based data analytics company, is tackling the desire to trace and track goods through the supply chain by analyzing dust that attaches itself to shipments.

More scientifically, Phylagen has developed a microbiome analytics platform to provide new insights about global supply chains, empowering stakeholders to trace goods and materials to points of origin such as exact factories, farms or warehouses.

Phylagen CEO Dr. Jessica Green explained in an interview that each place and object on Earth has thousands of naturally occurring invisible microbes, and the genetic information encoded in these microbes creates unique fingerprints for everything in the world, from food to textiles to counterfeit goods.

Green noted that recent advances in bioinformatics and machine learning, combined with lower costs for DNA sequencing, have enabled Phylagen to digitize these microbial fingerprints and create a microbiome database.

“Imagine swabbing the invisible dust on a new running shoe with a Q-tip and being able to see where it comes from,” Green said.

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The technology for Phylagen arose out Green’s research at the Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon, where she worked with architects and biologists to advance understanding of how microorganisms interact with each other, with humans and with the indoor environment.

Discussing how high profile the concept of traceability has become at the same time the technology was ready to be commercialized, Green said, “The timing couldn’t be better. The demand is meeting the technological capacity in a perfect confluence.”

Phylagen’s first product is a microbial forensics service launched on Thursday that links goods to their site of origin. Customers, so far, include large North American brands and retailers in the apparel and footwear industries that are currently deploying the company’s solution in manufacturing locations worldwide.

To expand Phylagen’s microbial forensics service and grow its microbiome database, the company announced $14 million in Series A financing led by Cultivian Sandbox, Breakout Ventures and Working Capital.

Chemain Sanan, Working Capital partner, said, “Transparency is an important first step to ensure the ethical treatment of workers. Phylagen’s technology provides unprecedented insights for brands and organizations who need to access essential information about the origins of products.”

Breakout Ventures partner Hemai Parthasarathy said an important aspect of the technology is that “there’s no need to introduce artificial tracers into the production process.”

While the initial focus on is on the apparel and footwear supply chain, Green said there’s strong potential in the agricultural and food sectors, too.

Also participating in the funding round were 3M Ventures, Agfunder, Blackhorn Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures, Duck Investors, J-Angels and Western Technology Investment.