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Malaysian company's antiviral protein technology leads the shoal at innovation forum

Much like in the livestock space, the buzz words for start-ups in the aquaculture health sector seem to be "sustainable" and "natural". 

This was more than evident at the inaugural Aquaculture Innovation Summit 2017, where Malaysian business BioValence and its anti-bacterial technology was commended by a panel of experts.

From a group of 10 start-ups presenting at the London conference, BioValence was awarded the Innovation Award for its antiviral protein RetroMAD1, a platform technology designed to kill a broad spectrum of viruses.

R&D in aquaculture

Animal Pharm spoke to Biovalence, Aquinovo, Ynsect and KnipBio about their R&D work. Interviews will be published over the coming weeks at www.animalpharmnews.com.

The firm has made significant headway with RetroMAD1, demonstrating its efficacy in tackling a number of viruses in a range of species. Notably, BioValence claims to have used the technology to become the first company in the world to cure the emerging tilapia lake virus. 

A natural innovation theme was clear throughout the other presenting companies, as the aquaculture market comes under the same intense consumer and governmental scrutiny experienced by the livestock arena. 

AquiNovo is working on a non-hormonal feed additive based on a peptide. The company's R&D aims to accelerate fish growth for greater yields and profits. The Israeli firm claims to have demonstrated an increase of more than 30% in the average weight of tilapia during lab experiments conducted over a period parallel to a single growing season. AquiNovo said its technology is appropriate for most finfish and it has a commercial agreement in place with an unnamed leading fish company for a specific species.

The firm's chief executive Nissen Chen said: "AquiNovo is developing proprietary materials to enhance the growth of farmed fish. Our technology increases fish weight, reduces costs and helps protect the environment. It has demonstrated an over 30% increase in the average weight of tilapia in lab experiments conducted over a period parallel to a single growing season.

"It shortens time to optimal market weight and reduces total production costs. It can also offer potential for more growth cycles to increase yield and revenues. It may help prevent reproduction of escapees in the wild and has the potential to eliminate or reduce the use of male hormones in tilapia farming."

KnipBio is a US company hoping to harness synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to make more sustainable aquaculture possible. The firm claims to be developing a "game-changing fish feed" that combines the attributes of protein-packed fishmeal, carotenoids and other health-inducing additives. Recently, KnipBio said its lead single cell protein product for inclusion in shrimp feed has produced significantly higher survival rates.

KnipBio chief executive Larry Feinberg said: "KnipBio is developing a range of tailored feed solutions aimed at different fish species and markets. To achieve this, we have evaluated many different strains of methylobacterium in our search for maximum nutritional value.

"Today, we are focusing on three specific product strains. The first is a straightforward fishmeal replacement that mirrors the protein and amino acid content of conventional fishmeal. The second is a fishmeal replacement that also provides valuable prebiotics designed to improve fish gut health. The third adds a range of important carotenoids useful for a number of high-value fish species."

France's Ynsect is in the burgeoning insect feed space and is focused on supplying the aquaculture market. The firm wants to provide insects as an alternative to fishmeal, which it says has seen an increase in price of around three times over the last 10 years.

Ynsect chief executive Antoine Hupert stated: "We are creating a novel high protein meal for use in fish farms globally. We have a significant demonstration plant in place and powerful momentum to carry the business forward. All fish carnivores such as salmon and trout will want to eat our meal worms which are derived from beetles."

US biotechnology firm Calysta has also developed a fishmeal alternative. The company's FeedKind protein is a sustainable and traceable feed ingredient produced via natural fermentation for shrimp feed. The company's R&D has already attracted the interest of Cargill, which has been part of Calysta's lucrative financing rounds.

UK business NeemCo intends to harness the natural benefits of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) to cut losses caused by sea lice. All of the firm's products are formulations of the same the neem-seed kernel extract. Trials have shown the use of NeemCo's extract as a food supplement, Riddance, reduces the burden of immature lice by more than 70%.

"NeemCo has developed, in collaboration with a variety of institutions, a control of ectoparasites of farmed fish. The initial work has focused on the sea louse (Lepophtheirus salmonis) which is the scourge of farmed salmon in Scotland and other countries where the fish are farmed. Riddance is administered by inclusion in the diet," noted NeemCo's founder Michael Mason.

MicroSynbiotix is developing oral vaccines using microalgae to tackle infections in fish. The Irish business claims: "By using microalgae as an oral delivery vehicle, we can substantially cut labor and post-processing costs, allowing us to produce effective vaccines that are much more affordable and user-friendly. Our technology can reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics, reduce fish mortality rates in aquaculture farms, prevent bacterial and viral diseases from wiping out entire fish stocks, and improve global food security."

Blue Lice is developing technology to attract, capture and contain sea lice before they attach to salmon. According to the Rogaland-based business, the NOK10 billion ($1.25 billion) problem of sea lice infection in Norway alone "is troubling the fish farming industry resulting in loss of profit and decrease in growth".

Also based in Norway, FishGLOBE is targeting the animal welfare sector. The company's technology is designed to be a new and improved way for the delousing of salmon. The fish are gently transported from traditional cages into a FishGLOBE for safe and gentle treatment. After treatment, the fish are then transported in the same way back to their original cage.

Xpertsea is a data capture firm is working on a device that uses optical density to count and measure the size aquatic organisms such as fish, shellfish, microalgae and crustaceans. The Canadian company is aiming to roll out its technology to hatcheries, farms and research centers.

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