Biotechnology / Food and drink

White Dog Labs is making strides in aquaculture biotech

The New Castle company is innovating animal-free feed for carnivorous fish like salmon (and some plant-based options for people, too).

White Dog Labs aims to keep salmon on your table sustainably. (Photo by Pexels user Public Domain Pictures used under a Creative Commons license)

New Castle biotech company White Dog Labs is innovating fish food. More accurately, it’s a player in the growing aquaculture industry that is helping to minimize the depletion of small “feed” fish with microorganism, non-animal-based, protein-rich feed for carnivorous farmed fish like salmon and tuna.

“Seafood is by far the largest industry for meat production,” said Bryan Tracy, Ph.D., the CEO and cofounder of White Dog Labs. “It’s not chicken, it’s not beef.”

In order to prevent depleting the oceans, most of the world’s fish is harvested, not from the open ocean, but from farms of blocked-off ocean near land or, increasingly, inland tank farms. (Delaware’s main aquaculture industry is Inland Bay oyster farming).

While aquafarms are considered an ecologically responsible way to meet food supply needs for people without depleting the oceans, there’s one catch: “One of the main feeds in aquaculture is fishmeal — ground small fish,” said Tracy. “But we really cannot harvest more fish to feed fish.”

Much like with a dog or a cat, you can’t just substitute meat-based food for any non-animal-based food that hasn’t been designed to meet the nutritional needs of carnivorous animals. White Dog Labs, founded in 2012, specializes in sustainable feed for aquaculture and agriculture, with a mission to address global challenges in food sustainability, climate change, and general human and animal nutrition.

The single-cell protein aqua feed, called ProTyton, is currently being used in salmon farms around the world (most are located in Norway, Scotland and Chile) via an agreement with Minneapolis-based Cargill, one of the largest agricultural feed suppliers in the world. In February, White Dog Labs announced that it had purchased a plant in Little Falls, Minnesota, to produce ProTyon; the headquarters will remain in Delaware.

While the single-cell protein solution was created to solve an aqua feed problem, it isn’t lost on the company that plant-based, animal-free foods are also in demand for humans.

“We’re using the [single-cell protein] to make vegan cheeses as well,” said Tracy. “Pub cheese, block cheese, cheddar.” The cheese, of course, is packed with protein, something other plant-based dairy products are often lacking.

While the vegan cheeses aren’t on the market at this point, they recently put them up against other vegan cheeses in a Whole Foods taste test. The result?

“We destroyed them,” he said. “It’s got a great texture. It’s really about getting the right texture and mouth feel.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the move into commercial mass production of ProTyton, Tracy has a positive outlook on the growing company’s future.

“Delaware has such a great legacy of innovation, with companies like Gore, DuPont and FMC,” Tracy said. “It’s the Silicon Valley equivalent in the chemical industry. White Dog will be doing a lot more challenging and innovating.”


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