Inc.

HOW SYNBIO WILL SAVE THE WORLD

Reprogramming microbes so they eat toxins and C02? It’s not science fiction. It’s happening right now.

In an office park on a leafy side street in Mountain View, California, a few miles from the headquarters of Google and Facebook, NovoNutrients CEO David Tze is showing off a technology so powerful, it just might avert human civilization from its 200-year collision course with disaster.

Striding past humming electrolyzers separating water molecules into their component elements and liquid chromatographers analyzing the molecular components of samples, he stops before a fluorescent-lighted cylindrical water tank with tiny specks floating in it. “These are the only macroscopic organisms we have here,” he says. “These are Artemia.”

Artemia salina, that is, a crustacean found in brackish waters and better known by its common name, brine shrimp. If you’ve heard of brine shrimp, it’s likely because, in 1964, a man named Harold von Braunhut began marketing them as a pet-cum-novelty toy under the brand name Sea-Monkeys.

The cutting-edge science I’m looking at is a 55-year-old children’s amusement from the back of a comic book?

“Yes,” Tze confirms. But, he adds, “we don’t give them the official Sea-Monkey feed. They just get our product.”

That product is Novomeal, a protein developed for use in aquaculture, and the Sea-Monkeys are proof of concept. Fish food for fish farms, basically. The key ingredient in the commercial feed formulations used in the farming of salmon, tuna, and other carnivorous species prized by consumers is something called fishmeal, a powder made from the ground-up bodies of tiny fish such as anchovies. (“Fishmeal is strangely named: It’s meal made from a fish, but it also happens to be an important part of a meal for a fish,” Tze says.) Novomeal, a nutritionally complete substitute for fishmeal, is made from the proteins of bacteria and other single-celled organisms, incubated in giant steel vessels akin to beer vats, called bioreactors. Feed is the biggest cost of fish farming, a $232 billion global industry, and, given that the output of the world’s overexploited oceans continues to decline, it’s only getting more expensive. The supply of bacteria, on the other hand, is effectively infinite, as long as you have

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