Single-cell organisms could provide alternatives to fishmeal, oil

Alltech Inc. is producing and marketing an alga, which contains 70 percent oil on dry weight basis, as a source of omega-3 fatty acids in animal diets.

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Fishmeal has been used as an ingredient in animal diets because it provides highly digestible high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, overfishing and increased demand for omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet have pushed up the price of fishmeal. The economic axiom that high prices are the cure for high prices is once again proving true as companies have stepped forward to produce and market feed ingredients derived from single-cell organisms that can be substituted for fishmeal or oil in animal rations that either provides the high-quality protein or the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish-derived products.

Omega-3 from algae

The reason many species of fish caught in the open ocean are high in omega- 3 fatty acids is because they eat algae that are high in omega-3; the fish aren’t creating these fatty acids themselves. Alltech Inc. is producing and marketing an alga, which contains 70 percent oil on dry weight basis, as a source of omega-3 fatty acids in animal diets.

I had the opportunity to tour Alltech’s plant for producing algae in Winchester, Kentucky, this year. A naturally occurring alga species is grown in monoculture in a plant where yeast had been fermented using the same equipment. The alga is grown in darkness and it is provided a carbon and energy source. At the end of the growing cycle, the single cell algae are dehydrated and the resulting feed ingredient is particularly high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is the most valuable form of omega-3.

Protein from bacteria

There are a lot of valuable nutrients dissolved in the wastewater effluent from food and beverage processing facilities. Processors spend a lot of money employing chemical and biological processes to remove these nutrients so that the water they discharge doesn’t pollute ground water or bodies of water. After removal from the water, these nutrients are in the form of biosolids (sludges) which are still mostly water, but also contain proteins and fats. Disposal of the biosolids can be a costly proposition.

One company, Nutrinsic Corp., is now marketing a product derived from the bacteria that feed on the nutrients in wastewater from food and beverage plants as an animal feed ingredient. The product, ProFloc, is dehydrated and sterilized and it provides a concentrated source of highly digestible protein with a favorable amino acid profile. The company has a plant in operation in China as part of a joint venture and reports that it will have a facility online in Ohio by the end of 2014.

Nutrinsic’s process is an example of “upcycling,” which is defined as the reuse of discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. I suppose “upcycling” is better than “recycling;" it certainly sounds intriguing.  The company reports that it will operate the existing wastewater treatment facility in a manner that meets all permit requirements and then concentrate bacteria from the biosolids, dehydrate and sterilize them to make ProFloc. The company is actively looking for food and beverage companies to partner with to produce more ProFloc at their facilities.  

Feeding trials have been conducted with ProFloc for pigs, broilers and aquaculture species. The company reports that, because the protein digestibility of ProFloc is greater than that of soybean meal, it will be more expensive than soybean meal, but it is priced to be competitive with fishmeal.

Feed ingredients derived from single-cell yeasts have gained wide acceptance in animal agriculture for a number of uses and bacteria are commonly used to produce enzymes. It will be interesting to follow the progress of these two new sources of single-cell animal feed ingredients in the marketplace.

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