Study: Mycoprotein has positive impact on salmon’s natural immune system and growth

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Single cell protein production technology © Enifer
Single cell protein production technology © Enifer

Related tags mycoprotein Finland Protein Research Council of Norway Salmon

New research indicates supplementing the diets of juvenile salmon growing in freshwater with a mycoprotein can bring clear added benefits for their health and growth.

The study utilized Pekilo Aqua mycoprotein, produced by Finland-based biotech startup, Enifer; the research was undertaken by a group of scientists led by Professor Margareth Øverland in collaboration with the Norwegian University for Life Sciences (NMBU).

Their research was conducted under the Foods of Norway center, which is funded by the Research Council of Norway and the NORDICFEED project under the Nordic Council of Ministers’ organization, NordForsk, which facilitates Nordic cooperation on research.

The results of the study were first announced at Aquaculture Europe in Vienna and are set to be published at a later date.

Joosu Kuivanen, COO at Enifer, said the health and performance benefits generated by the inclusion of Pekilo Aqua mycoprotein in salmon diets arise from the composition of the fungal protein, which consists of about 65% protein, 15% beta-glucan, 10% fats and minerals, and a high concentration of vitamin B. 

Enifer’s proprietary technology can upcycle by-products from diverse agri-, food- and forest industry processes into its Pekilo mycoprotein.

The study

Salmon farms face multi-stressors such as sub-optimal environmental conditions and diseases leading to mortality and economic losses, along with additional obstacles such as access to high quality feed resources, so the need for sustainable novel feed raw materials to replace conventional ones has never been more urgent, said the research team. Coupled with a good sustainability profile, novel feed inputs need to include components that can address both the nutritional and microbial related challenges in salmon farming, they added.

Microbial ingredients such as yeast and fungi provide a viable alternative due to both their high nutritional value and their bioactive components with proven health benefits, noted the scientists. 

In testing Enfier’s mycoprotein​, they fed vaccinated Atlantic salmon pre-smolts diets with Pekilo Aqua replacing 0, 5, 10 and or 20% of crude protein from fishmeal and soy protein concentrates over four weeks and in freshwater. Growth and health parameters were analyzed.

The results of that in-vivo trial showed that all inclusion levels of Peliko Aqua resulted in feed intake and growth rate equivalent to that of the control diets. The authors saw a dose-dependent linear decrease in the feed conversion ratio (FCR) with increasing inclusion levels of the mycoprotein.  

In summary, they said the replacement of up to 20% of the crude protein content of the feed with Pekilo Aqua improved the FCR and nutrient utilization efficiency of Atlantic salmon juveniles reared in freshwater, while a low (5%) inclusion of Pekilo Aqua led to a strong T-cell response, innate immunity responses, and enhanced antimicrobial activity.

Higher (10-20%) inclusion levels additionally showed T1 helper cell activation and specific responses to β-glucan, which is abundant in Pekilo Aqua, reported the research team.

In addition, the scientists measured higher levels of specific antibodies against the bacterial salmon pathogen, Vibrio anguillarum.

"The results are so interesting that we are now running an infection trial with live pathogens here at the NMBU campus to [further] test the health effects of this novel protein feed ingredient on salmon,” commented Professor Margareth Øverland.

Efficient process

The company maintains the Pekilo production process is efficient, uses little water, does not require a large land area, and does not cause eutrophication like traditional agriculture. That process was originally developed by forestry industry scientists in the 1960s in Finland to produce cost-efficient animal feed protein from side streams of the pulp and paper industry.

“The fact that Pekilo Aqua can be produced sustainably, competitively, and close to the fish farmers makes it particularly attractive to industry,” added Kuivanen.

Simo Ellilä eniferBioxMadeinHEL-2
Simo Ellilä, Enifer CEO, told this publication in April: 'We're lucky as there is so much credibility attached to the old [Pekilo production] process. It had years of validation behind it, with a protein product that was used in animal feed. That gives us a lot of traction.'

Funding round

In April, we reported on how Enifer had generated €11m (US$12.05m) in a series A funding​ round, led by Dutch aquaculture investment fund, Aqua-Spark, with Tesi, Valio, Voima Ventures and Nordic Foodtech VC also participating.

The biotech said it then it would use those funds to begin to scale up the production of its Pekilo mycoprotein powder to thousands of tons per year. 

It was almost three years ago that the company was spun out from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and it is already collaborating with companies in the feed and food industries, such as Skretting, the global aquafeed division of Nutreco, Purina for pet food, and Valio for consumer food products.

One of the big differences in terms of Enifer’s production model compared to that of some competitors is the raw material stream it can leverage, with it able to tap into ‘nearly for free’ byproducts coming from industry: “It is also about how we integrate with existing facilities. We will tap into existing infrastructure for steam and electricity to [ensure our process can feasibly supply a sector] like aqua feed," said CEO and Enifer cofounder, Simo Ellilä.

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