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FEATURE

THE RISE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY TO SOLVE AQUACULTURE’S GREATEST CHALLENGES

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by Larry Feinberg, PhD, CEO & Co-Founder of KnipBio, USA

quaculture is the most efficient and fastest growing source of animal protein for humans but its continued sustainability is of grave concern. The continued reliance on fishmeal to support the growth of aquaculture is not an option anymore as many of the world’s fisheries are maximally exploited or in decline. Alternative protein sources to substitute for fishmeal have been developed, and current options primarily include those derived from plants. The use of these plant-based proteins has reduced the amount of fishmeal required for aquaculture feed blends. For example, fish-in: fish-out ratios for salmon have been reduced from ~3.54:1 to a current ~1:1. Soy is the most common terrestrial plant protein used in aquafeeds, but anti-nutritional compounds and palatability to fish does not make it an ideal total replacement. Furthermore, diseases can occur when using alternate proteins (e.g. gastro-enteritis in salmon) as a direct result of sub-optimal feeding regimes. These difficulties add additional stresses and costs to the food supply chain. KnipBio is advancing a single cell protein (SCP) technology with the target of developing sustainable solutions for animal nutrition. This SCP does not only provide a high content of protein, but it is also a source of essential amino acids and high value biomolecules like carotenoids. In nature, the KnipBio microbe is a ubiquitous leaf symbiont with the capability of creating single cell protein and other biomolecules of interest using commercially available, non-food based feedstocks. With the availability of genetic tools, biotechnology uniquely offers a powerful means to rapidly advance specific desirable traits to support aquaculture’s growth potential. Just recently, KnipBio converted upon a bio-informatic prediction, resulting in a meaningful level of taurine produced for the first time in

just a few months. Tailored applications, with rapid iteration, is representative of how technologies can lead to aquaculture’s next line of products, simultaneously avoiding chemically synthesized alternatives. An alternative source of protein that has been developed previously with some success is SCP, or the protein-rich biomass collected from microbial processes. Today, it is very common to blend the spent yeast cells from corn ethanol fermentations with dried distiller’s grains and solubles (DDGS) used as animal feed. Algae, which are also an SCP, is grown commercially in ponds or bioreactors and often used in the manufacture of food and cosmetic ingredients, oils and nutritional supplements. Algal protein is comparable to conventional plant protein in many ways including nitrogen content and other nutritional factors. To date, its wide scale use has been limited by higher production costs and technical challenges. Other approaches to SCP production include harvesting from the residuals of wastewater treatment facilities’ clarifying ponds or dedicated manufacturing processes. The last strategy holds the greatest potential for “smart proteins”, or advanced biotechnologies specifically customizable to solve specific nutritional challenges. As fishmeal is systematically removed or reduced in diets, additional key nutrients beyond protein can also get diluted as a consequence. Nearly all protein alternatives to fishmeal have some inherent nutritional limitations, but these can potentially be overcome by adding ingredients back exogenously. Taurine (2-aminoethanesulfonic acid) is an amino acid found in a wide range of organisms, from birds, mammals, fish, plants, fungi and bacteria. Taurine is critical in many basic cellular processes, including osmoregulation, membrane stabilization, and antioxidation. In addition, taurine participates in a variety of more complex physiological functions, such as bile conjugation, protein folding and calcium signaling. Taurine can be detected at high levels in a variety of fish species, and has been suggested as conditionally

20 | January 2017 - International Aquafeed

JAN 2017 - International Aquafeed magazine  
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