According to a recent report by the Quality Food Institute, “2021 will be the most active year for growth in the alternative protein industry, and there are many signs that the world is on the cusp of a global competition for alternative protein innovation.”
At the same time, the Quality Food Institute report also pointed out Some unfavorable trends: 90% of wild fisheries are classified as overfished; bottom trawling is an industrial fishing method that accounts for a quarter of all wild seafood today; if fish populations continue to decline, more than 800 million people will be At risk of malnutrition.
To feed more people with fewer resources, companies in the alternative protein industry are taking 3 different approaches: making meat and seafood from plants, by growing animal cells, and by cell fermentation.
According to statistics, in 2021, alternative seafood companies raised $175 million in funding, almost double the amount in 2020. In 2021, there are 120 alternative seafood companies worldwide, with plant-based seafood dominant. Of these, nine startups (almost half of all alternative seafood companies launching in 2021) are focused on developing farmed seafood.
Launched in July 2021, Mermade Seafoods (“Mermade”) was founded by CEO Al Horry, CTO Kadir and COO Harvey, and has now completed a $1.5 million seed round. Based in Jerusalem, the company is developing more sustainable seafood products.
Harvey has over 3 years of experience in cultured meat R&D, bioprocess development, pilot scale-up and cultured meat product development. Extensive experience in stem cell isolation and establishment, selection of specific cells for various conditions; Kadir has extensive knowledge in the isolation and culture of multiple cell types in the meat industry. He is an expert in molecular biology and genetic tools, primary cell culture, aquaponics development, and establishment of research facilities and foundations.
Like a growing number of startups, Mermade believes the solution lies in cellular agriculture. The startup believes that cell-based meat can be produced more efficiently and sustainably, and is turning to aquaponics to achieve this.
Aquaponics is a new type of compound farming system, which combines aquaculture and hydroponics, two completely different farming techniques, through ingenious ecological design, to achieve scientific synergy, so as to achieve fish farming without changing water. There is no water quality problem, and the ecological symbiotic effect of growing vegetables without fertilization is normal.
Mermade Seafoods Co-Founders (left to right): COO Dr. Harvey, CEO Al Horry and CTO Dr. Kadir
Algae grown in ammonia-rich animal cell cultures
In traditional aquaculture, with the accumulation of fish excrement, the ammonia nitrogen in the water increases, and the toxicity gradually increases. In the aquaponics system, the aquaculture water is transported to the hydroponic cultivation system, and the ammonia nitrogen in the water is decomposed into nitrite by the bacteria and then decomposed into nitrate by the nitrifying bacteria, and the nitrate can be directly absorbed and utilized by the plants as nutrients . Aquaponics enables animals, plants, and microorganisms to achieve a harmonious ecological balance. It is a sustainable, circular, and low-carbon production model with zero emissions and an effective solution to the agricultural ecological crisis.
Mermade’s solution utilizes aquaponics technology to limit the amount of waste in cell culture protein production. Kadir explained, “The current cost of cell culture meat is high, and the large-scale production required in the future is not fully considered; secondly, during the growth process, the cells generate a large amount of waste into the culture medium, including ammonia, phosphate, etc. , lactate, and metabolites, etc.”
“Spent medium should not be considered waste,” Kadir emphasizes, “it still contains many good nutrients that cells don’t have a chance to consume.”
To address the high cost of the medium, and The question of mass production, Mermade founder Harvey focused on “what else can grow in waste?” After knowing that algae was used in wastewater treatment, the team took advantage of the algae’s nutritional value and ability to absorb ammonia directly from water, creating the The overall process of recycling growth media.
“We collect ammonia and carbon dioxide-rich waste and feed it to algae, from which we extract the required components for cell culture.”
Mermade currently focuses on seafood, with its first pipeline being cell-based scallops , others include marine mollusks and crustaceans. Mermade expects the first product to hit the market within three years.
There are at least two reasons for this, Al Horry explained: From an R&D standpoint, scallops have the “simplest shape and texture” that can replicate all meat analogs; furthermore, scallops are “well-loved” and ” full of nutrition”. In terms of market size, scallops are worth an estimated $8 billion.