Purdue University alumnus Kyle Mohler is founder and CEO of Insignum AgTech, a startup company that creates plants to warn growers of an early-stage infection so crops can be protected.

Insignum AgTech and Verility Inc., led by Purdue alumna Liane Hart, both received a $100,000 investment from the Purdue Ag-Celerator, an agriculture innovation fund operated by Purdue Foundry with assistance from the Purdue College of Agriculture, Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization and the agriculture industry.

Mohler generously shared his time to answer our questions.

Q: What advice would you give to prospective students or professionals in your field?

Mohler: Don’t be afraid to fail! Our school system rewards consistently achieving 90%. We get accustomed to not challenging ourselves to do something completely new and different. When we start something new, we’re all really bad at it! It takes time and dedication to get moderately good at something. When you really want to push the boundaries of your limits, you’re going to get really bad again. Your best efforts won’t be successful at making you better or achieving that next goal. If you can get comfortable with failure, take feedback from others, and keep trying, you’ll be in a good place to discover that next piece that will get you to the next level.

Q: Do you have any special skills or unique talents?

Mohler: People have told me I have skill at taking difficult concepts and explaining them in a way that is approachable to my audience. Not sure if that’s a unique talent …

Q: What is a new and exciting technology or innovation that you think should be on our radar?

Mohler: This isn’t a specific company exactly, but blockchain for ag has the potential to really change things for everyone who grows, handles, and eats food. This could help to solve some of the problems of “big data” that is difficult for many to take on board.

Q: If you could have any 6 people over for a dinner party, living or dead, who would you invite?

Mohler: These are my six:

• George Washington Carver — He was champion of crop rotation to improve soil health and improve human nutrition. He implemented highly successful education outreach programs in the American south.

• Norman Borlaug — He had passion to help feed people through plant and agriculture technologies. He was not afraid to stand up to those in power to fight for those who don’t have a voice.

• Elon Musk — He is not afraid to dream big, fail and try again with even more ambitious goals.

• Jennifer Doudna — She is a brilliant scientist who can push the boundaries of knowledge and apply it to real problems.

• Yuan Longping — He had a relentless scientific pursuit of knowledge, even when his life was threatened, to create a system for hybrid rice production.

• A political or policy leader who can inspire communities and countries to rally around big dreams. I don’t know of a leader who fits this description and isn’t polarizing to at least some people, but I can imagine.

I think this could be a “dream team” for solving some big problems in agriculture. Put these people in a room and something really special could happen!

Insignum AgTech creates plants that warn growers of an early-stage infection so that crops can be protected. The plants turn purple before a pathogen can be identified, providing growers with information to fight disease. (Photo provided by Kyle Mohler)

Q: What is something you wish everyone understood about your work?

Mohler: Often people believe that GMOs are less desirable than their conventional counterparts, but don’t apply the same standard to medicine. For example, there is no movement against diabetics who take insulin. We no longer have to harvest small quantities of insulin from mammals because we genetically modified bacteria to produce insulin instead.

At Insignum AgTech, we use precise modifications using DNA copied from the plant itself. The pigments used as indicators are already made by all crop plants, their production is just normally turned off. We are entering a new age of genetic understanding of our world, and decades of knowledge has led us to the point where we can make new tools such as this. I’m not asking people to just trust me, I want to be transparent about our process so that others can see exactly what we’re doing and that there’s no cause for alarm.

Q: How do you maintain or recharge your energy?

Mohler: I have two kids, ages 2 and 5. They are wonderful! They certainly both take energy but they give it back in multiples! They make me happy.

The Mohler family. (Photo provided by Kyle Mohler)

Before the pandemic, I got a lot of energy from socializing and meeting new people. I’m looking forward to the back of COVID when we can all gather regularly again.

Also, I take time to purposefully reflect. Starting a business elicits some wild emotions, up and down, and reflection helps me to stay centered, letting emotions be part of the story but not drive the story I tell myself.

Thank you again Kyle Mohler for participating in Take 6!