Recombinant Fish Gelatin- ON-350

Desired discipline(s): Biochemistry / Molecular biology, Life Sciences, Food science, Genetics, Chemistry, Natural Sciences
Company: Anonymous
Project Length: 6 months to 1 year
Preferred start date: As soon as possible.
Language requirement: English
Location(s): Toronto, ON, Canada
No. of positions: 2-4
Search across Mitacs’ international networks - check this box if you’d also like to receive profiles of researchers based outside of Canada: 

About the company: 

As part of the creation of a new alt-protein company, ~5 funded R&D projects are being offered to potential partners with the aim of producing components for a realistic, “raw” plant-based fish fillet. Projects are to last 6-12 months and produce tangible results that will aid in a venture capital fundraise for this new company, after which additional research may continue. Each project is designed to tackle a key problem inherent to existing plant-based seafood products in their inability to mimic  actual fisht - including the taste, texture, mouthfeel, color, macronutrients profile, cooking behavior, and added nutritional benefits (ex: Omega 3’s). The target species is Atlantic salmon; should research findings lend themselves better to other species, alternating the target species will be considered. 

This project is being funded and led by Chris Bryson, an impact angel investor. Chris was the Founder and CEO of Unata (acquired in 2018 by Instacart), an eCommerce software provider. He founded Unata in 2011 and grew it to ~100 employees, becoming the 52nd Fastest Growing North American Tech Company (PROFIT 500 2016), Canada's #2 best small business workplace (Great Place to Work 2017),  and one of Canada's Top 20 Most Innovative Companies (CIX Awards 2016).

Please describe the project.: 

This project seeks to conduct a proof of concept (POC) for a platform to produce recombinant Atlantic salmon gelatin for general industrial use and particular application in an alt-protein Atlantic salmon product. The flakey texture of fish is due to a stratified structure where the layers of muscle are separated by sections of connective tissue that includes collagen. On cooking, the muscle contracts and gets harder and more brittle, but the collagen melts/dissolves, and can yield a “melt-in-your mouth” experience. Generally, gelatin sourced from cold water species vs. warm water fish species are distinct, and fish gelatin has some key differences from mammalian gelatin, including lower gelling and melting temperatures, and also relatively higher viscosities. Compositionally, fish gelatins also have widely varying amino acid compositions, and differ from animal gelatins in having typically lower proportions of proline and hydroxyproline residues. In many food applications, in particular, neutral taste and good water solubility are prized sensory and functional qualities.


To produce recombinant Atlantic salmon gelatin, fungal host systems such as Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus oryzae or Pichia pastoris are a good target as they are commercially used for production of proteins (mainly enzymes), and they are capable of secreting proteins which makes purification cheaper. Fungal hosts are also capable of growing on cheaper heterogenous raw materials, including food industry by-products (e.g. husk, sugarcane bagasse, distillery spent grain) and waste streams from other industrial processes (e.g. methane/methanol). In this project, synthetic biology tools (plasmids and genetic integration systems) will be used to express different genes (around 10) for Atlantic salmon collagen in fungal hosts. The cultivation should be carried out in laboratory-grade microbial bioreactors containing standard medium, and also medium dosed with food industry by-products or other cheap substrate materials. Methods for protein purification and size analysis such as affinity chromatography (followed by tag removal) and SDS-PAGE will be required to analyze the recombinant products. Overall, the lab-scale process should focus on minimizing media use and production time, and maximizing the titers of the recombinant Atlantic salmon collagen products. 

Required expertise/skills: 

We are looking for candidates with:

- bcakground in Biochemistry; Genetic Engineering; Microbial Fermentation; Bioprocessing or Protein Analysis

- expertise with fermentation / recombinant proteins / enzymes.