- Sustainable Bioproducts announced it raised $33 million in Series A funding from the venture capital arms of Archer Daniels Midland and Danone, among several other investors. The Chicago-based biotechnology startup is growing edible protein in the laboratory based on research into microbes that live in the volcanic springs of Yellowstone National Park.
- The company said 1955 Capital led the round. Other participants include Breakthrough Energy Ventures — which is a $1 billion fund led by Bill Gates, with investments from Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Richard Branson — along with Lauder Partners and the Liebelson family office.
- The company has developed innovative fermentation technology, which it said can grow protein with a high nutritional value and minimal impact on the environment. "Curiosity and a passion for exploration led us to Yellowstone, one of the harshest ecosystems in the world," Thomas Jonas, CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. "By observing how life optimizes the use of resources in this challenging environment, we have invented a way to make protein that is radically more efficient and gentler on our planet."
Sustainable Bioproducts noted it is taking lessons learned from the microbes in Yellowstone, which are called extremophiles due to their ability to adapt and grow despite extreme conditions. The company replicates the high-protein microbes in the lab and feeds them starches or glycerin. The result is protein containing all nine amino acids essential for the human diet, Food Business News reported.
Jonas told Food Business News the lab-grown protein could end up adapting to a variety of food products and come in the form of a solid, liquid or powder. Some examples are meat substitutes, protein powders or other items.
"It could be some things that are more meat-like. It can be savory; it can be sweet; it can be liquid; it can be dairy-like," he said.
However, commercialization of these microbe-based protein products remains a few years off, according to The Wall Street Journal. Still, it's clear the company's vision has resonated with some deep-pocketed investors who want to support projects that emphasize sustainability and produce plant-based protein products with less water, land and other costly and energy-intensive inputs.
"They know the current agricultural model doesn’t align with their long-term mission. When it comes to changing our food system, we really have to think about how we can do it with a fraction of the resources," Jonas told The Journal.
The development of lab-grown edible protein products is becoming more common as biotech firms look for sustainable alternatives to conventional protein sources. Examples include Memphis Meats, which has attracted investment funding from Cargill, Tyson Foods' VC arm Tyson Ventures, Bill Gates and Richard Branson to develop its lab-grown meat products.
Not surprisingly, the trend is giving the animal agriculture industry heartburn. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the U.S. Cattlemen's Association want federal regulators to restrict use of the terms "beef" and "meat" on food labels to only those products coming from animals born, raised and harvested for that purpose.
Such groups call lab-grown products "fake meat" and have dug in their heels on the issue since plant-based and lab-grown products represent a serious threat to their business. They aren't likely to view the emergence of lab-grown protein products from Sustainable Bioproducts any more positively.
Consumers could take a much different view, since the microbes the company is replicating bring a unique backstory from the previous research done at Yellowstone's volcanic springs. Also, the sustainability factor often carries marketing appeal and can stimulate purchases. It's hard to see a downside here as long as Sustainable Bioproducts can develop the products it claims and they're a hit when, and if, they arrive in the marketplace.