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Can Synthetic Biology Make Our Oceans More Sustainable?


Of the many parts of the world in dire need of environmental redress, Earth’s oceans present some of the most vast and complex challenges for the conservation and sustainability community. The good news is that these represent “triple bottom line” business opportunities to benefit people, profit and planet. Some of the world’s greatest minds have been addressing these problems at the intersection of marine and synthetic biology. At SynBioBeta’s annual San Francisco conference five leaders will present the innovative and impactful solutions they are developing for some of the greatest threats to the ocean during the “Innovations for Ocean Sustainability” session. These include:● Overfishing:​ Aquaculture consumes 90% of small fish and threatens the existence of whales, seals, dolphins and commercial fisheries -- but innovation in aquafeeds, particularly fishmeal and fish oil replacement, represents an opportunity in a growing industry worth $107 billion in 2017.● Ocean​ ​acidification:​ ​ ​Carbon pollution is acidifying the ocean and threatening the entire food web. Through feedstock remediation and algal fermentation it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce sustainable aquafeed.● Plastic​ ​pollution:​ ​ Plastics endanger marine life through entanglement, are mistakenly consumed by marine life, and are showing up in our food. Through bioengineering principles, it is possible to reduce plastic pollution and upcycle plastic waste into harvestable lipids that could be used in sustainable aquafeeds among other uses.While these challenges may seem daunting, they represent large market opportunities for triple bottom-line entrepreneurs and investors who are looking to support innovative business solutions. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from these leaders tasked with addressing these problems during the Innovations for Ocean Sustainability session. The five panelists, all of whom work at the intersection of marine and synthetic biology, will come together to discuss the role that synbio can play in remediating many of the largest issues of the ocean.Among them, Dr.​ Rick​ ​Barrows​, the founder of Aquatic Feed Technologies, an aquaculture feed consulting firm, as well as the Chief Scientific Officer of the Feed Innovation Network. Prior to this, Barrow's served as the Lead Scientist and nutritionist for the Trout Grains Project at the USDA for thirteen years. A highly published and awarded expert in aquaculture feedstock, his extensive body of research has studied the effects of various alternative diets on growth performance in rainbow trout and salmon. Barrows’ current engagements focus on the development and promotion of alternative aquaculture feedstocks in order to improve the sustainability of the world’s seafood supply.Tim​ ​Haig​ is the President and CEO of Mara Renewables Corporation. Mara Renewables Corporation is a research and development company focusing on algae fermentation. Mara’s scientists in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, have characterized a microorganism known as T18, and continue to optimize and demonstrate its viability at commercial scale. Mara Renewables’ objectives are to produce low-cost, sustainable lipids for nutrition and renewable energy industries, to confirm the large-scale economic viability of a fermentation facility for production of a renewable (lipid-based) oils derived from the heterotrophic organism T18, to demonstrate cost reduction and sustainability through organism optimization, applied process engineering, cycle time reduction, and nutrient cost reduction and to produce and market renewable oils for nutrition and fuel applications. Tim brings to the discussions his strong entrepreneurial background in Cleantech, Renewable Fuels and Chemical industries. Tim is also is Co-Founder and CEO of FORGE Hydrocarbons Corp. Both Mara and FORGE are second generation renewable fuels and renewable chemical companies. In addition, Tim is a Director of OneRoof Solar (TSX.V ON.V).Brian​ ​Sefton​ is founder, CEO, and CTO of Oakbio, a company that engineers microbes that use waste feedstocks—primarily flue gas—for the sustainable production of PHAs, butanol, and chemicals for use in animal and aquafeed. He is a serial entrepreneur with previous experience as the CEO of Fastlane, a network analysis software company, and Pharmadyn, a drug discovery firm. The goal of Sefton’s latest venture is to simultaneously remediate the world’s air and water of harmful greenhouse gases while harnessing pollutants to manufacture high-value biobased chemicals. Sefton shared with us the central message of his contribution to the panel: “Too much carbon, too few fish,” he said. “That, in a nutshell, summarizes the challenges facing the world oceans. The synthetic biology community is addressing these challenges by developing novel, carbon capturing microbes which produce fuels, plastics and chemicals; nutritionally rich, single-cell-proteins for aquafeed; improved fish strains for aquaculture; and specialty engineered microbes for bioremediation. At SynbioBeta in October we will take a deeper dive into the synthetic biology applications which are enabling sustainable oceans.”Miranda​ ​Wang​ ​is the cofounder and CEO of the Bay Area-based startup BioCellection, Inc. Her company’s mission is to use synthetic biology to mitigate pollution caused by plastic waste, especially within the world’s oceans. In 2014, Wang assisted the team from University of Pennsylvania in their project for the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition, which consisted of engineering magnetotactic bacteria capable of remediating heavy metal-polluted water. Today, BioCellection applies the same bioengineering principles to create bacteria that are capable of biodegrading plastic-derived compounds and upcycling mixed plastic waste into harvestable lipids.The session will be moderated by Elif Demir-Hilton, an ocean sciences consultant and a member of F3 Team (Future of Fish Feed), a collaborative effort between NGOs, researchers, and private partnerships to accelerate the commercialization of innovative, alternative aquaculture feed ingredients to replace wild-caught fish. The Fish-Free Feed Challenge is a contest between companies around the world to develop sustainable alternatives to fish-based feedstocks for aquaculture. In addition to leading the charge toward sustainable aquaculture through their ongoing competition, the F3 is the sponsor of the Innovations for Ocean Sustainability panel.Register now for SynBioBeta San Francisco 2017 to join this important discussion.To enjoy more articles like this from SynBioBeta, click here to subscribe to our weekly news digest.

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