Europe’s leading lab-grown fish company, Bluu Seafood, aims for sustainability

Overfishing is a global problem that negatively impacts the ecosystem and our access to fish protein. One solution to overfishing is to produce fish products in the laboratory from harvested animal cells. It can help feed the world while using fewer resources and without endangering wild fish populations.

As the world’s population continues to grow, so does its appetite for seafood. This growing demand threatens many fish stocks that are already under pressure from overfishing and other human activities. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations34.2% of fisheries are overexploited, which are responsible for 22.7% of the world’s seafood supply.

Innovators in the cultivated food space create sustainable alternatives to traditional meat and fish products to reduce our impact on the environment. One such innovator is German start-up Bluu Seafood — Europe’s first lab-grown fish company. Their goal is to create healthy and sustainable fish products to secure a future supply of fish protein.

Beyond sustainability, the benefits of lab-grown fish include its high nutritional value and lack of contaminants such as dioxins and mercury typically found in wild fish. And compared to the fish processing industry, the production of farmed fish saves resources, having a significantly lower CO2 footprint as well as water and energy consumption.

To learn more about how these fish products are produced and how they can positively impact our marine ecosystems, we spoke with Sebastian Rakers, co-founder and CEO of Bluu Seafood. Rakers is a marine biotechnologist who has spent over a decade working with fish cells and applied science, starting Bluu Seafood – and later Bluu GmbH – in 2020.

How does Bluu Seafood develop its farmed fish products?

Fish culture begins with the removal of a small sample of fish tissue containing different populations of stem cells. From the isolated stem cells, our scientists create what is called an “immortalized cell line”. This cell line can be used over and over again without the need to return to the animal.

The cells are then grown in a bioreactor, which provides a sterile environment that allows the same developmental processes that take place inside an animal’s body to occur. It provides cells with the warmth and nutrients (water, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals) they need to reproduce and grow.

The result is a large amount of fish cells. These include muscle, fat and tissue cells which are identical to the cells that grow in a living animal, providing the same nutrients as wild caught or farmed fish. We then use these fish cells in combination with other ingredients such as vegetable proteins to create products such as fish sticks or fish balls. In the medium term, we will also be able to produce more complex products such as salmon fillet, which will be grown on 3D scaffolds made of plant material to create an optimal structure.

Can you tell us what are the main differences between farmed fish and farmed beef or chicken products?

In essence, the process is similar, although there are some differences. First, working with fish cells is more energy efficient because fish cells can be cultured at room temperature, saving energy costs, while mammalian cells must be maintained at 37°C.

Second, fish cells are more robust and tolerant of different oxygen levels than mammalian cells, which is an advantage for bioreactors with low oxygen levels.

Third, the structure of fish meat is significantly less complex than that of mammalian meat, as it consists mainly of muscle tissue, which makes the production process simpler and more cost-effective.

With climate change and overfishing, there is pressure on global fisheries and the marine ecosystem. Do you think farmed fish products can help consumers move away from wild fish?

We are destroying our oceans. More than 90% of wild fisheries are classified as overexploited or exploited at maximum capacity. In addition, more than three billion marine animals are slaughtered every year. Most of it is bycatch. These are issues that need to be addressed now and cultured peach products offer a healthy and tasty alternative that is nutritionally equivalent to the original, while having only a fraction of the ecological footprint.

Food waste is clearly a major social problem. Can cultured foods such as fish products solve this problem?

Our food production systems are highly inefficient and much of the food we produce is thrown away. Farmed fish addresses this problem because it is produced locally in the exact quantities needed. Thanks to our modular production system, we can produce fresh fish at your doorstep, which means that the quantities produced can be better adapted to the actual demand.

What other products do you hope to work on in the years to come?

We have now finalized our development of fish sticks and fish balls, and are following regulatory processes in various geographies for these products. We are currently refining more complex products, such as trout sashimi and salmon fillet. These are more complex to build as they contain different types of cells (muscle, fat and connective tissue) and more complex 3D structures. We are also improving the nutritional profiles of all our products; for example, in terms of the content of omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients.

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