by Amélie Drouault & Emily Glenn, Arbiom, USA

Projections indicate that, by 2050, animal-derived protein is expected to double to more than 465 million tonnes of meat and one billion tons of milk. As demand continues to expand, there are growing concerns about the availability of resources—including fish meal and fish oil—to safely and sustainably feed the world.

Considering fish protein already contributes 17 percent of the global human population"s intake of animal protein, it is safe to say this trend is a major societal concern. Aquaculture, due to its high feed conversion ratio and low land utilisation, must step up to the challenge of feeding our growing global population and increasing appetites for more animal protein. In order to sustainably and economically expand production of farmed fish and shellfish, aquaculture producers are fast searching for new solutions and innovations to improve their operations across the production process.

In particular, feed is one area that offers a host of opportunities to both improve animal and, thereby, human nutrition, as well as reduce agriculture"s impact on the environment. There are several challenges currently facing feed formulators when it comes to sourcing raw materials – including volatile pricing, inconsistent quality, toxicity and rancidity risk, lack of transparency/traceability, biodiversity and environmental concerns. These challenges are encouraging aquafeed producers to find new solutions that deliver improved animal nutrition and cost-performance and have minimal impact on biodiversity and the environment.

As we approach the limits of conventional agricultural production systems, alternative protein sources are emerging and could expand to encompass up to a third of the market by 2054. In this article, we will explore the advancement of alternative protein sources to complement fish meal with a focus on Single Cell Proteins (SCPs) derived from an unlikely source.

Introducing Single Cell Proteins

As aquafeed producers have searched for new resources to meet protein demand, much of the focus has centered around a two-fold question: How can we produce more food using less resource inputs while also reducing agriculture"s impact on the environment and biodiversity?

Single Cell Proteins (SCPs) include microbes such as yeast, fungi, bacteria and microalgae, which can be produced via fermentation, requiring less land, water and fertilizer than traditional plant or animal sources. Several strains of SCP"s can serve as high-quality protein sources for aquafeed, with high protein content and essential amino acids, along with micronutrients.

Wood as a solution

Until recently, SCP"s potential was limited due to production challenges. Producing a high-protein SCP product in commercially-relevant volumes for animal feed in a way that is both economical at a commercial scale and safe in terms of feedstock and production inputs simply has not been achieved.

There are several companies expanding production of SCP for animal feed. Arbiom is one company that is unique in this space as its technology relies on an unexpected feedstock to industrially produce SCP: wood. Wood is the most sustainable and readily available organic carbon source in the world and has historically not been a part of the food supply chain, even though it is a source of fermentable organic carbon (~99% percent of the dry weight of wood is organic matter potentially fermentable to SCP). Despite wood"s promising attributes, bioconversion processing technology to extract its fermentable components has not been effective or efficient to make it economical.

Arbiom is commercialising its "wood to food" technology to unlock wood"s potential to help address global protein supply challenges. Scientists from Arbiom have developed bioprocessing technology that can maximise the value of woody biomass by extracting its fermentable components and optimising conditions for SCP production with optimal properties for its use in animal feed, in particular, in aquafeed.

The proprietary technology integrates upstream wood pretreatment and downstream processing with state-of-the-art fermentation technologies of an enhanced strain of Torula yeast (brand name: SylPro), enabling production of a highly-digestible, high-protein ingredient from wood.

Arbiom SylPro: Leading the next evolution of aquafeed

Arbiom"s proprietary enhanced strain of Torula yeast delivers additional benefits as a protein ingredient thanks to its improved amino acid profile and high digestibility. SylPro provides valuable building blocks that improve nutrition and performance, making it an alternative option to replace or supplement conventional plant and animal protein sources in feed.

Not only does SylPro have the attractive nutritional profile for feed formulators, but because it is a naturally enhanced strain of Torula yeast, it is already globally approved as a feed/food ingredient with a history of safe use. Therefore, making the path to market much shorter than other SCP microbes.

Gut health is another consideration for producers when it comes to feed sources, as microbes in the digestive tract play a key role in the wellbeing and growth of animals. Torula yeast contains functional fibers, such as beta glucans and mannan-oligosaccharides, which are known to positively impact gut health as immunomodulators and pathogen binders – thereby assisting an animal"s ability to fight disease. This is especially worth considering in light of regulatory and consumer pressure to reduce antibiotic use.

Additionally, torula yeast does not contain endogenous allergens and antinutritional components that are found in milk, egg, wheat and soy products, making it an ideal protein source for susceptible populations. Contrary to other new classes of SCPs, torula yeast has regulatory approval for use in feed and food applications, and a history of safe use.

Arbiom SylPro is differentiated from many other alternative proteins in the market, as it is produced using wood hydrolysates as the substrate for microbial fermentation. SylPro is an ideal high-quality alternative to soy protein concentrate and fish meal, delivering nutritional, economical, traceable and sustainable protein source for multiple species. Torula yeast is also a globally-approved feed ingredient, and, thus, it does not face the same regulatory barriers as other microbial strains of alternative proteins, such as novel bacteria.

A win-win for all

The aquaculture industry is not the only sector that can benefit from wood-based SCP. Arbiom"s technology offers an opportunity to produce a higher-value end-product from wood and wood wastes, leveraging the forest products industry"s strong supply chains and asset base dedicated to sourcing and processing wood, as well as the high volume of by-product material, residues and wastes that lumber and paper mills produce, which is typically burned on-site.

Some paper mills, for example, typically experience 30-34 percent mass losses on site in the form of slabs, edgings, sawdust, fines and bark. By aligning themselves with a partner in bioconversion technology development, these companies may be able to find a more profitable use of their current wood wastes and/or new market segments to explore.

Wood offers important advantages over the use other feedstock material for SCP production, such as waste and wastewater, methane, and glucose from food crops.

Bridging the gap

As the aquafeed market requirements continue to evolve, technology is expected to play a significant role in meeting protein supply-demand needs. New SCP-based protein solutions offer promising ingredients for aquafeed formulators and ultimately end consumers, while opening the door to a new era of renewable resources that can be utilised to meet market demands head-on. It"s a win-win for the feed and aquaculture industries and a milestone for driving healthier, more sustainable solutions to meet global nutritional demands.

Why is wood a solution to the global food challenge?

• Wood is sustainable, abundant, and environmentally-friendly

• No irrigation or fertilizer required

• Strong mature industrial supply chains in forest products & paper industries, that generate high volume of wood waste & residues during the production process

• Advancements in global silviculture practices ensure forest health, productivity and biodiversity are maintained/enhanced

• Additive to food supply chain; does not compete with food crops

• Available year-round

• A source of organic carbon with ~99 percent content of fermentable matter

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