Jerusalem-based Mermade Seafoods will today reveal the “secret sauce” behind its promise to make cultured meat and seafood a commercial reality, starting with the sustainable mass production of scallops. CEO and Co-Founder Daniel Einhorn will talk about Mermade’s breakthrough in OurCrowd’s online event “Investing in the Circular Economy: From Trash to Cash”, but here’s a preview.
“We are the first company in the world to use aquaponics in cellular agriculture,” Einhorn told me recently. Mermade aims to adapt aquaponics – using the nutrient-rich water from raising aquatic animals in tanks to provide natural fertilizer for plants, with plants helping to purify water for animals – to create the new market category of cytoponicrevolutionizing cellular agriculture.
The greatest cost of cell culture is the need to constantly replenish the growth medium, the nutrient-rich environment in which cells proliferate. But for much of the past decade, the cultured meat industry has focused primarily on proving the basic concept that it is indeed possible to create meat from cells. As Einhorn puts it, “Every other company is focused on showing that they can grow a lot of cells. No company is showing a scaling process because the cost of growth media is prohibitive.” It is estimated that 55% to more than 95% of the marginal cost of the product is attributable to the cost of the growth media.
The founding team of Mermade hailed from one of these cellular meat companies and experienced these challenges first hand. Combining the team’s experience with aquatic life and making cultured meat allowed Mermade to connect the dots in a unique way and see the potential of aquaponics in cell culture.
To find a solution to the need to constantly replenish growth media, the founders of Mermade focused on the question “what else can grow in the waste?” says COO and co-founder Tomer Halevy, PhD. Knowing that seaweed is used for wastewater treatment, “we saw the opportunity to combine the two qualities of seaweed, their nutritional value and their ability to absorb ammonia directly from the water and create this holistic process [of recycling the growth media]says Halevy.
The cellular fermentation process creates ammonia-rich waste products which, in turn, are used by algae to create nutrients such as amino acids and sugars that nourish cells. “The waste from our cells becomes their food,” says Halevy. Einhorn reports that “we have just received results which show that we are able to successfully remove approximately 60% of ammonia from cell culture waste using our cytoponic technology.”
An added benefit of the specific algae that Mermade uses in its process are characteristics important to the food industry, such as high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 that penetrate cells and eventually into the product. And he chose scallops as his first product because they are uniform in size and shape. “Scallops are the easiest food to design,” says Einhorn.
A recent report from the Good Food Institute (GFI) stated that “2021 has been the busiest year yet for growth in the alternative protein industry, and there are many signs that the world is on the cusp of of a global race for alternative protein innovation”.
The GFI report notes a number of troubling trends: 90% of wild fisheries are classified as overfished or fished at maximum capacity; bottom trawling, an industrial fishing method responsible for a quarter of all wild seafood caught today, releases 1.5 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year; and more than 800 million people are at risk of malnutrition if fish populations – and local catches – continue to decline.
In an effort to feed more people with fewer resources, companies in the alternative protein industry are pursuing three different approaches: Making meat and seafood from plants; by culturing real animal cells; and by cellular fermentation.
Alternative seafood companies raised $175 million in 2021, nearly double the amount raised in 2020. There were 120 alternative seafood companies globally in 2021, seafood d plant origin dominating the industry. But nine new startups — nearly half of all alternative seafood companies launched in 2021 — are focused on developing cultured seafood. Mermade was launched last July, led by Einhorn, Halevy and CTO Rotem Kadir, PhD, and is in the process of raising seed funding.
“Our technology is relevant to any cell fermentation process, including in the pharmaceutical sector,” says Einhorn, hinting at possible future diversification through licensing of Mermade’s production process.
You may remember the prophetic words of ‘Mr. McGuire’ in the 1967 film The graduation“I want to say a word to you. One word: Plastics! Since 1976, plastic has been the most used material in the United States. I can imagine a similar movie scene in 2027, in which a future Mr. McGuire will say to a fresh college graduate, “Just one word: Seaweed!”