KnipBio: A step closer to commercial production
With the successful completion of its latest 20,000-litre fermentation, Massachusetts-based firm KnipBio is now one step closer to the commercial production of single cell protein, reports Bonnie Waycott. Hopes are high that its fishmeal alternative KnipBio Meal (KBM), a premium aquaculture feed ingredient made from low-cost, readily available feedstocks, will feature even more prominently in the global aquaculture industry.
Co-founded in 2013 by Larry Feinberg and Christopher Marx, KnipBio is a producer of aquaculture feed ingredients, advancing nutritional solutions for animal feed using biotechnology to develop a range of single cell protein products from non-food feedstocks. Today, it is addressing a key challenge facing humankind - how to feed Earth's growing population with limited resources. Although aquaculture can contribute substantially to meeting worldwide protein demand, the lack of reliable and sustainable proteins and oils to form nutritious, balanced diets for farmed fish or shrimp is a significant obstacle. But research has shown that a family of microbial lineages developed by KnipBio can act as a nutritious source of single cell protein and have immuno-stimulatory properties.
"KBM is a single cell protein from the natural leaf symbiont Methylobacterium extorquens, found on the surface of nearly every plant on Earth," said KnipBio's CEO Larry Feinberg.
"Our organism is metabolically versatile, sharing both the nutritional features of photosynthetic microbes and the flexibility of industrial microbes like yeast. KBM is produced through a fermentation process, making its production immune to climate and weather influences and requiring little physical space or resources to produce. In the end, we see our protein 'flour' products as a complement to the existing ingredients to offer the aquaculture industry a greater range of options, flexibility and performance."
Although fishmeal is considered the gold standard of feed inputs in aquaculture, its supply is finite and demand is increasing. Soy protein has been a key replacement, but concerns have been raised over its digestibility. Studies have suggested soy can cause gastroenteritis and other diseases, resulting in increased mortalities, reduced yields on farms and less healthy fish.
KBM is unique in providing high quality protein as well as important immuno-stimulatory nutrients like prebiotics and carotenoids. "Brewing protein" allows KBM to be produced reliably, consistently, traceably, and with a land-use footprint roughly 1/1000 that of soy. Numerous studies on finfish and crustaceans have consistently shown significant reductions in mortality when populations were fed KBM instead of standard industry diets.
In January 2018, KnipBio hit the headlines with its latest achievement having successfully completed fermentations at the 20,000-litre scale, an important milestone that demonstrates the scalability of the firm's protein manufacturing process. Larry Feinberg stated that significant quantities of KnipBio Meal biomass have been produced as a byproduct of this effort, and this will be distributed to highly qualified partners for collaborative feed trials.
"Many bioprocess engineers would characterise the 20,000-litre size vessel as ‘commercial demonstration’ scale," he said. "In essence, what this means is that we are now within striking distance of full commercial scale, which is roughly ten times greater. There is certainly more work to be done on our part, but succeeding at 20,000 litres is very encouraging indeed."
Fermentation uses a microorganism that converts a source of carbon into a product of interest within a closed space. Everything that enters and leaves the vessel is tightly controlled and monitored, making the traceability of the process second to none. For KnipBio, the 20,000-litre reactor is an intermediate step in their roadmap to full commercial scale production. Work is currently underway to improve performance inside the vessel and towards even larger fermenters.
"Efforts are continuing to fine-tune our microbe in order to increase protein expression to >70% compared to ~65% in fishmeal," Larry Feinberg explained. "We are also working to create strains that offer unique immuno-nutritional profiles for specific, commercially-relevant aquaculture species. At the same time, we are adapting the microbe and fermentation process to reduce costs, improve yields and work with additional sustainable feedstock such as waste ethanol and biomethanol. Industry leaders are definitely excited by what we offer."
With concern rising over future food and nutritional security, Larry Feinberg believes that to be successful in the aquaculture protein market, a simple protein replacement for soy and fishmeal is not enough. Instead, one that enhances fish health and improves performance will be key going forward.
"The bar is at least as high, if not higher, for novel ingredients to not only do no harm, but also to improve the overall quality of products," he said. "In addition to performance, this could be in the form of adding a highly traceable and sustainable element to the ingredient to meet increasing consumer demands, without negatively impacting fish taste, texture or colour."
With great interest from companies in Asia, Australia, Latin America, North America and Europe, KnipBio is now heading towards full commercial scale production with a range of feedstocks using batch and semi continuous processes. The company is also in the final stages of launching a selective campaign with multiple industry partners, to carry out extensive feed trials using a range of commercially relevant species of fish and crustaceans.
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