Special Edition: Alternative feed proteins

KnipBio ups production of single cell protein feed products for aquaculture

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Nordroden
© GettyImages/Nordroden

Related tags: Single cell protein, Bacteria

A new research inquiry and expanding production marks the start of the year for KnipBio Inc, a single-cell protein-based aquafeed producer.

The Massachusetts-based company announced Thursday (January 18) that it has achieved its next development step with the move to a 20,000-liter fermentation vessel. The company has been using biotechnology to develop a feed using a single-cell protein, primarily, as a replacement for fishmeal in the diets of various fish species.

The move is a step in the process toward reaching commercial scale production and was done, in part, to demonstrate the scalability of the company’s protein manufacturing process, said Larry Feinberg, CEO with KnipBio. Overall, generation has passed the metric ton production level.

“We went from lab to pilot scale and this year, 2017-18 we’re going into commercial demonstration with 20,000 liters,”​ he told FeedNavigator. “We’ll be going to 200,000 liters - that’s the ladder, that’s the room for improvement, but we’re still thinking we can improve.”

In addition to the expansion in production, KnipBio has also been working on a new research pathway stemming from a licensing agreement for prebiotic work started by researchers at Ghent University in Belgium, he said. 

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Expansion plans

Looking forward, the company has plans to see market seeding efforts take place during 2018-19, said Feinberg. The expansion in production is not yet meant to be commercial level, that is anticipated to follow in 2019-2020.

“People have been very enthusiastic, but it’s a cautious industry in general,”​ he said of market reactions.

“We’re getting the data from the production and we’re getting the biomass,”​ he said.

The goals of the effort included demonstrating the ability to scale production and establish a customer base for the protein product generated, he added.

Part of the pre-commercialization process includes working with select customers and partners, he said. However, there is not a specific regional focus for efforts at this time.

The company has seen benefits from being able to make use of existing technology for some of its efforts, said Feinberg. That has allowed for more attention to be spent on the biotechnology and new microbial strains.

Additionally, as production has increased the company has seen benefits to the costs involved in production, he said. “Economies of scale have lowered the price 10-15%,” ​he added.

“To be able to improve on yield rate, we can extrapolate that as we go up, things become less and less expensive,” ​he said. “We’re on track to make it a price competitive product.”

Research and development

KnipBio started working with research produced by Ghent University at the end of 2017, said Feinberg. The company signed an agreement to license some of the university’s work on prebiotics to boost health in aquaculture.

Researchers there had been exploring work with a bacterial storage polymer for short chain fatty acids – poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), the company said. The compound can act as an anti-microbial agent.

The compound is also one generated by the microbe that KnipBio uses to generate its single-celled protein, said Feinberg.

“Microbes and enzymes have a major influence on the conversion of feed,” ​he said. “The microbial ecosystem is going to be more important, not less.”

The interest in the work that Ghent researchers had started was to attempt to adapt it to industrial use, he said.

The company has been looking at ways to potentially increase the bio-availability of PHB generated with the protein to make it more digestible for aquaculture species that have short digestive tracts, he said.

“We have the tools to push somethings left and right [in microbe production], this will always be part of the single cell protein opportunity,” ​said Feinberg. “If we find other compounds we can turn them up or turn them off depending on what is desirable.”

“This represents the beginning and is an example of this class of compounds and manipulates the organism in a way that will help the industry,” ​he said. “It is a representative of what is yet to come.”

Additionally, the compound is of interest because it may function as a type of prebiotic and support the development of beneficial bacteria in the gut of a fish, he said. Fish with a more stable and robust microbiome may be better prepared to face disease challenges or pathogenic bacteria.

“It becomes too crowded for the bad bacteria to take root,”​ he added.

Feed manufacturers and consumers continue to have interest in reducing the amount of antibiotics used in aquaculture, and the compound may offer a way to reduce the need for their use, said Feinberg.

“Aquaculture is particularly sensitive,” ​he said. “If you can find more gentle ways to coax bad microbes away from animals – it boils down to ecology, you can really alter the state in a positive [way].”

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