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Product, Service & Design Innovation
2 Biotech Startups Are 3D Printing ‘Fish’ to Give the Ocean a Rest

Mycorena and Revo Foods have combined mycelium-based protein and 3D printing to create a potential win-win for seafood fans and overexploited fish populations.

Research shows global fish consumption has doubled since 1998 and a similar increase is expected by 2050. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that biologically sustainable fish stocks hit 64.6 percent in 2019 — just over one percent lower than in 2017, but a disconcerting drop from the 90 percent reported in 1974; and while efforts to replenish depleted fish populations continues, the successes achieved in some countries and regions have not been sufficient to reverse the global trend of overfished stocks — a trend that doesn’t bode well for the future availability of seafood.

Some have pinned their hopes for fish stock sustainability on aquaculture; but while fish farms do alleviate pressure on marine and freshwater fish populations, and responsible and sustainable models are on the rise, the aquaculture industry at large continues to set off alarm bells due to its adverse environmental effects, hazardous working conditions and even incidences of animal cruelty.

Luckily, an emerging crop of innovators — including Aqua Cultured Foods and Umami Meats — has turned to the lab for a completely new way to satisfy the world’s appetite for seafood without mining the seas, through cultivated seafood products. Then, in October 2022, biotech startups Mycorena and Revo Foods partnered on a solution that could solve the fishing conundrum — without a fish in sight.

Mycorena

In a recent interview, Mycorena Chief Innovation Officer Paulo Teixeira told Sustainable Brands® that the Scandinavian company was born out of CEO Ramkumar Nair’s research exploring fungi’s potential to create alternative materials for a variety of industries. Once his team realized the aptitude of fungi as a highly versatile and nutrient-packed protein source, they launched Mycorena in 2017.

After successfully securing a seed round of funding from GU Venture and establishing its own lab, Mycorena launched its first product, Promyc, in 2019. By 2021, the company expanded further and set up the Mycorena Innovation and Development Centre (MIND) — the first mycoprotein demo plant in the region. In 2022, it received what was then the largest-ever Nordic series A funding and one of the most significant in Europe for the alternative protein space. This year, the company board is set on achieving commercial scale.

Along with providing a source of fibrous, sugar-free nutrition containing all necessary amino acids, Promyc also has notable environmental benefits. A climate impact assessment with the SaaS platform CarbonCloud found that Promyc has a carbon footprint of 1.5kg CO2/kg — a drastic improvement over that of beef (27 kgCO2/kg).

Another benefit is the speed with which it can be cultivated. Mycorena produces its strain of filamentous fungi in a fermentation process that is somewhat similar to how you’d cultivate a yeast culture in beer production, Dr. Teixeira explains. They add the fungi to a large bioreactor tank filled with a mix of nutrients specially developed for the fungi and grow it for roughly 24 hours: “In those 24 hours, we can reach about 20 times the amount of fungi we started with,” he states.

One of the defining features of Mycorena’s filamentous fungi is its ability to retain a fibrous texture and nutritional value whilst delivering a neutral taste. This is vital in tackling the challenge of emulating the shredded-like texture and subtle flavor of fish.

Revo Foods

Revo Foods is a plant-based seafood company founded in Vienna by cell culture researcher Robin Simsa, interdisciplinary scientist Theresa Rothenbucher, and 3D-printing expert Manuel Lachmayr in 2021, with a goal to reduce overfishing and deliver healthy options that are free from heavy metals and antibiotics; and its products — ranging from tuna spreads to smoked salmon slices — are already available in over 20 countries.

Since its launch, Revo Foods received €1.5 million in an initial funding round in April 2021, and a further €800,00 from Biogena Group Investors. The enterprise has also recently been named as one of the top innovators by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. Based on the average weight of Atlantic Salmon, Revo Foods estimates its products have saved 7,800 salmon to date. The company’s production process uses 95 percent less freshwater, whilst an initial life-cycle assessment revealed Revo’s cultivated salmon uses 77-86 percent less CO2 than conventionally fished salmon.

Now, thanks to its partnership with Mycorena, the companies’ 3D-printed, mycoprotein-based vegan seafood alternatives transform Mycorena’s fungi into a paste that is then inserted into a 3D printer, where it is extruded in layers that create the final product. The companies say the 3D printers are key to creating the unique and complex structures that allow them to recreate the mouthfeel and texture of distinct materials such as fish flesh.

Are fungi-based, 3D-printed fish the future?

Soon after announcing their partnership, the two biotech startups received a €1.5 million grant from Swedish governmental agency Vinnova, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, and the EU funding program Eurostars to further develop 3D-printed seafood alternatives.

3D printers are effective at printing a variety of different products. With this kind of technology, “you have a ton of flexibility and customization properties,” Teixeira says. Another benefit of 3D printing is their ability to print on demand in precise quantities, resulting in less waste.

“We want to be true change-makers, challenging decision-makers and investors,” Teixeira asserts.

By challenging consumers and producers to consider alternative proteins in their diet, Mycorena and Revo hope to cultivate a new way of eating and living more sustainably — whilst inviting people to reflect about the impact that our current methods of food production have on the climate and our global ecosystems.

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