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Bill Gates-Backed New Meat Alternative Is Made Out of a Volcanic Microbe

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos-backed startup turns a microbe from Yellowstone into a rich protein source.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Al Gore are amongst the big names backing Nature's Fynd, a startup developing meatless burgers, dairy-free cheese, chicken-less nuggets, and other products using a fermented volcanic microbe derived from Yellowstone National Park, a report from CNBC explains. 

The Chicago-based company, which has raised $158 million in funding from several high-profile investors, aims to release its products this year. When it does, it will add to the already hefty $7 billion alt-meat market headlined by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

Nature's Fynd was co-founded in 2012 by Thomas Jonas and Mark Kozubal, originally under the name Sustainable Bioproducts. Before co-founding the company, Kozubal had researched a microbe from volcanic hot springs in Yellowstone National Park called Fusarium strain flavolapis.

Kozubal and a team of scientists fermented the microbe into a protein-rich substance they call "Fy," which is now the foundation for their food products.

Nature's Fynd says its volcanic microbe-derived protein includes all 20 amino acids, at the same time as having no cholesterol or trans fats. Fy has a tenth of the fat of ground beef and 50 percent more protein than tofu.

Enabling the shift away from traditional meat production

Nature's Fynd is currently building a 35,000-square-foot (3,251 square meters) factory on the site of Chicago's former Union Stockyards, in a symbolic move representing the shift away from traditional meat production — the Union Stockyards were a focal point for the meatpacking industry in the 20th century.

And the transition is in full force. The alt-meat industry surged last year, with an increase of 27 percent in US retail sales, bringing its total market value to $7 billion, according to the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA).

Other companies taking advantage of the increased demand for alt-meats are Israel-based Redefine Meat, which 3D prints "alt-steaks," and California-based Perfect Day, which also uses fermentation and 3D printing. 

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Of course, all of this stands to aid in the fight against climate change, as alt-meats are already greatly reducing the environmental impact of procuring food, when compared to traditional meat products.

In 2019, for example, Impossible Foods published the results of a lifecycle assessment report by sustainability firm Quantis, showing that the Impossible Burger used 96 percent less land, 87 percent less water, and created 89 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, a large part of this effort will be led by the consumer. Will a large enough number of people be willing to make the change to alt-meats?

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