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Microbes from Yellowstone’s Hot Springs Make New Meat Substitute

Microbes from Yellowstone’s Hot Springs Make New Meat Substitute
Microbes from Yellowstone’s Hot Springs Make New Meat Substitute

We’ve written about companies using stem cells, yeast, and algae in the race to develop a meat-like substance to replace animal protein. Now, inspiration for a meat alternative is coming from somewhere completely different – Yellowstone National Park. 

Food scientists are using fermented microbes from the geothermal pools above the Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming to create a new ingredient that will soon substitute dairy as a protein powder and appear in meatless burgers. 

The microbe is among the many mysterious organisms, called extremophiles, that live in the 10,000 brilliantly colored thermal areas in Yellowstone National Park. It is called Fy, and it contains a complete protein that scientists believe can be mass-produced in labs, lessening the environmental impact of food production on a massive scale.

Developed by Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd, the scientific name for the environmentally friendly microbe is Fusarium str. yellowstonesis. The complete protein boasts all nine essential amino acids needed for human nutrition. The company’s CEO, Thomas Jonas, elaborated:

“What we have here is a super protein. And it comes from one of the most pristine wild places on the planet.”

Our facility has the ability to produce as many [hamburger substitutes] in a year as 16,000 acres of grazing land for raising cows. We can use about 1 percent of the land required, generate about 1 percent of the greenhouse gases and use about one-10th the water.”

Jonas, a former French Air Force Officer, said Fy is produced by fermentation, resulting in a textured substance with very little taste that holds onto many flavors. Nature’s Fynd opened its food-grade processing facility in March with plans to unveil its first products this year. 

 Besides creating meat-free burgers and dairy products, Jonas maintains Fy could be an economical way to produce inexpensive protein for large populations in Asia. He said:

“The technology is portable. We could go to China or India if we want and source local sugar streams.”

Formerly called Sustainable Bio Products, Nature’s Fynd recently caught the attention of billionaire Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund and Generation Investment Management, a venture capital company chaired by former Vice President Al Gore, which has invested $80 million towards creating the new-to-the-world protein source. Breakthrough’s other investors include Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Richard Branson.

Jonas said the company has a profit-sharing agreement with the national park for the use of biological materials collected there. 

Environmental microbiology engineering professor John Spear at the Colorado School of Mines said of the microbe:

“This fusarium is a microbial fungus, and some fungi are amazingly closely related to animals, with a similar physiology. What’s cool about it is it contains all the things needed for our own lives, a complete protein.”

According to a March study commissioned by the Good Food Institute and the plant-based trade organization, meat and dairy protein substitutes saw $5 billion in grocery store sales last year. Plant-based meat (especially when displayed in the refrigerated meat cases of grocery stores) increased by 63 percent over the past year, reaching $939 million in retail sales. 

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Published in Science News

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