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Thomas Jonas

Chief Executive Officer

Thomas believes in asking the big questions but also in finding new and different solutions. When a chance encounter on the beach in Hawaii led Thomas to a lab in Montana where he met Mark, he saw infinite possibilities in the tiny microscopic organism. When others often ask why, Thomas’ curiosity drives him to ask, why not and what if? Why not use the nutritional power of Fy to positively impact the environment and disrupt the food industry? What if Fy could feed people today and for generations to come? And as a former officer in the French Air Force, Thomas knows that even the sky is not the limit.
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Dr. Mark Kozubal

Chief Science Officer

Mark loves exploring science to find groundbreaking ways to benefit mankind. True to his curious nature, he journeyed to Yellowstone National Park and later discovered an extremophile microbe in samples taken from the hot springs. This microbe eventually grew to become our nutritional fungi protein, Fy. As a leading expert in extremophile organisms, it’s no surprise that his deep knowledge has led NASA, the National Science Foundation, the USDA, and the EPA to seek him out. When Mark isn’t researching extremophiles, he likes to mountain bike, backcountry ski, and strum guitar.
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Matthew Strongin

Chief Financial Officer

Matthew is passionate about leveraging technology to deliver a sustained impact on the planet and our society. This enthusiasm led him to Nature’s Fynd after working in venture capital and banking. As a venture investor in early-stage companies focused on agriculture and energy, Matthew experienced firsthand the struggles and rewards of commercializing technologies that both challenge convention and create sustainable solutions that disrupt the food industry in a positive way. He enjoys building towards audacious goals using his innovative spirit— just ask him about completely remodeling his home in his spare time.
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Karuna Rawal

Chief Marketing Officer

As a marketer with award-winning international success, Karuna was ready for the challenge of building a purpose-driven brand from the ground up. That brand? Nature’s Fynd. Karuna’s broad experience in launching new food innovations combined with an intentional focus on how we can create a better food system led her to this position. Building on the company’s unique origins, Karuna is crafting a compelling narrative for Nature’s Fynd. And her own enthusiasm for food extends beyond her kitchen to seeking out amazing tasting vegan food. So if you’re in Chicago, ask her to share a favorite recipe or restaurant she last visited for a flawless recommendation.
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Jim Millis

Chief Technology Officer

Jim’s belief is simple: live modestly and leave the world in a better place than you found it. He does this by preparing food from his own garden and through his work at Nature’s Fynd. With over thirty years of working as an entrepreneurial leader and his expertise in fermentation technology, Jim helped create the breakthrough method used to grow our nutritional fungi protein, Fy. This innovative spirit comes from a family of creators. With a woodshop on his family’s farm and an uncle in the business of wood lathes, Jim also loves woodturning to craft stunning bowls from reclaimed wood.
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Liquid-Air Interface Fermentation: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Nature Fynd’s Breakthrough Method

Nature's Fynd Blog

Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fer­men­ta­tion: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Nature Fynd’s Break­through Method

by Nicole P.

Fer­ment­ed foods and drinks have been around for thou­sands of years but have gained recent acclaim for their incred­i­ble health ben­e­fits. You prob­a­bly enjoy fer­ment­ed delights more often than you’d think: cheese, bread, wine, beer, and kim­chi are just a few pop­u­lar examples!

These days, the fer­men­ta­tion space is expand­ing to a whole new area—fungi and microbes.

Some com­pa­nies are har­ness­ing the pow­er of fer­men­ta­tion to cre­ate alter­na­tive pro­teins from fun­gi. Since the 1980s, they’ve been using the same tac­tic employed for mak­ing beer: an age-old method called sub­merged fer­men­ta­tion that requires tanks of water. 

Our sci­en­tists here at Nature’s Fynd saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reimag­ine this process in a more sus­tain­able way. To make our nutri­tion­al fun­gi pro­tein, Fy™, we also fer­ment fun­gi, but do so using an entire­ly new method that uses a frac­tion of land, water, and ener­gy com­pared to pro­cess­ing tra­di­tion­al pro­teins and it’s called liq­uid-air inter­face fermentation.

The sto­ry real­ly starts back in 2009. While our Chief Sci­ence Offi­cer and Co-founder Mark Kozubal was research­ing extremophiles in Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park for NASA, he dis­cov­ered a remark­able fun­gal microbe in the hot springs. Mark was able to iso­late the microbe with­out harm­ing the park envi­ron­ment and his research led to the cre­ation of Fy. Much like a sour­dough starter that self-repli­cates, the orig­i­nal sam­ples col­lect­ed are all we’ll ever need to con­tin­ue mak­ing our fun­gi-based protein—so Yel­low­stone vis­its are pure vaca­tion fun instead of a require­ment of our pro­duc­tion cycle.

But we’re get­ting ahead of our­selves here! Let’s jump into the basics of fer­men­ta­tion first, then we’ll tell you all about our Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fer­men­ta­tion so you know exact­ly how we grow Fy Pro­tein™.

What is fermentation?

The process of fer­men­ta­tion has been piv­otal through­out his­to­ry in cre­at­ing every­thing from food to medicine.

In terms of food, anaer­o­bic fer­men­ta­tion trans­forms exist­ing mate­ri­als into ener­gy with­out the pres­ence of oxy­gen. The gist of the process is turn­ing sug­ars and car­bo­hy­drates in food into some­thing new. Juice becomes wine; grains to beer; and the sug­ars in dough turn into car­bon diox­ide to leav­en bread—all from the action of nat­ur­al microor­gan­isms like fungi.

Here are some com­mon fer­ment­ed foods and bev­er­ages you might know and love:

  • Cheese
  • Sour­dough bread
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Kim­chi
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kom­bucha
  • Sauer­kraut
  • Pick­les
  • Miso
  • Tem­peh

When talk­ing about the fer­men­ta­tion of the fun­gi used at Nature’s Fynd, we like to think about the process as microbes eat­ing and col­o­niz­ing the feed­stock (source mate­r­i­al) that they are giv­en, there­by cre­at­ing the end prod­uct in a short amount of time with no wast­ed resources. The mag­i­cal end result is Fy, a com­plete pro­tein with all twen­ty amino acids includ­ing the nine essen­tial ones.

Fer­men­ta­tion is extreme­ly under­rat­ed yet super impor­tant because it turns microbes into prod­ucts that have a high­er nutri­tion­al val­ue and health ben­e­fits like aid­ing in diges­tion and sup­port­ing the immune sys­tem, and it can cre­ate tons of dif­fer­ent types of food more sus­tain­ably than grow­ing crops or rais­ing livestock.

Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fermentation

When it comes to our patent­ed fer­men­ta­tion method­olo­gies, the fun­gi we use to make Fy is the star of the show. It has many spe­cial prop­er­ties that make it suit­able to cre­ate deli­cious and sus­tain­able foods.

Meet Fusar­i­um strain flavolapis

What makes the fun­gi Mark dis­cov­ered so spe­cial? Fusar­i­um strain flavolapis (named after its place of ori­gin: fla­vo” is latin for Yel­low” and lapis” means stone) is unique even among oth­er Fusar­i­um fungi.

Fun­gi in the Fusar­i­um genus are com­posed of a web of fil­a­ments called hyphae that cre­ate huge net­works called myceli­um. The myceli­um form mats that have the struc­ture, feel, and look of raw chick­en when enabled to grow in a cer­tain way, like with well-suit­ed fer­men­ta­tion. Devel­op­ing myceli­um is the key to form­ing the innate tex­ture in fun­gi-based foods.

Where Fusar­i­um strain flavolapis stands out is where it start­ed out: the Yel­low­stone hot springs.

The resilience the microbe devel­oped in its extreme envi­ron­ment helps sus­tain­ably main­tain food safe­ty stan­dards through­out Fy’s fer­men­ta­tion. Bac­te­ria that might oth­er­wise lead to food­borne ill­ness­es can’t sur­vive the incred­i­bly acidic con­di­tions F. strain flavolapis nat­u­ral­ly thrives in, mean­ing we can let it grow as it would nat­u­ral­ly with­out pes­ti­cides, hor­mones, antibi­otics, or preservatives.

Anoth­er advan­tage of its ori­gin is that F. strain flavolapis evolved to eat just about any­thing that hap­pened to fall into its hot springs. Most strains of Fusar­i­um are far more picky eaters. This means we can grow Fy Pro­tein on many dif­fer­ent feed­stocks, so we have few­er con­straints in scal­ing up our pro­duc­tion in diverse areas of the world with unique or few resources. We’re even explor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a com­plete­ly closed sys­tem for space appli­ca­tion where waste from the mis­sion is bro­ken down as feed­stock for the microbe to sup­ply fresh-grown Fy for astronauts!

Nov­el fermentation 

Our break­through fer­men­ta­tion process is so rev­o­lu­tion­ary that we were award­ed 40 patents cov­er­ing our meth­ods, Fy pro­tein itself, and Fy food products.

Instead of employ­ing the same tech­niques that have gen­er­at­ed cheese or beer for cen­turies, we inno­vat­ed a method that only Nature’s Fynd uses called Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fer­men­ta­tion (liq­uid sur­face fer­men­ta­tion). Go ahead and nerd out about this, we’re right there with ya. 

Despite the sci­encey name, Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fer­men­ta­tion is inspired by the sim­plic­i­ty of nature. It’s one of the most resource-effi­cient routes to mak­ing high-qual­i­ty proteins.

Com­pared to pro­cess­ing beef, Fy can be made with:

  • 99% less land
  • 99% less water
  • emit­ting 94% few­er green­house gases
  • zero methane emissions
  • min­i­mal waste

We can also grow Fy 365 days a year with no need for rain, sun, or soil. Due to its incred­i­ble effi­cien­cy and because we can scale ver­ti­cal­ly (liq­uid sur­face fer­men­ta­tion takes place in trays that can be stacked in racks), we can cre­ate more Fy Pro­tein per acre of land than oth­er ani­mal or plant sources.

By fer­ment­ing F. strain flavolapis to make Fy, we can pro­duce the same amount of pro­tein over the course of a year as half a mil­lion chick­ens. Fy is 8x more effi­cient than chick­en pro­duc­tion in terms of pro­tein per acre. Pret­ty cool, right? 

Giv­en that we’re mak­ing a new-to-world pro­tein, it’s only nat­ur­al that you may have ques­tions about how our foods are cre­at­ed. We want our rela­tion­ship with cus­tomers to be dif­fer­ent from cur­rent food pro­duc­tion systems..

Bill Weir said it best in the CNN spe­cial Future of Food” when talk­ing to our CEO Thomas Jonas about our man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es: I can’t get a cam­era into a slaugh­ter­house in this coun­try, and meat­pack­ing plants won’t let us any­where near to see where our food real­ly comes from, and you’re going the oth­er way, you’re let­ting peo­ple in.”

So are you ready to get let in?

Step-by-step process

Let’s start with an overview of our nov­el liq­uid-sur­face fer­men­ta­tion method. You need Fusar­i­um strain flavolapis and sources of car­bon and nitro­gen for the feed­stock or liq­uid medium.

Trays are used to house the medi­um that helps our microbe grow, which is dif­fer­ent from oth­er fer­men­ta­tion meth­ods where the microbes are ful­ly sub­merged in liq­uid. Fusar­i­um strain flavolapis then eats every­thing on the sur­face of the liq­uid medi­um, and once it fin­ish­es the sur­face liq­uid, it eats its way down to grow ver­ti­cal­ly, kind of a sponge absorb­ing water and grow­ing larg­er as it takes every­thing in. 

There are six key stages in the process to grow Fy: prepa­ra­tion, inoc­u­la­tion, fer­men­ta­tion, har­vest, deac­ti­va­tion, and dewatering.

Step 1: Preparation

The process begins in our micro­bi­ol­o­gy lab with a small freez­er of Fusar­i­um str. flavolapis that can feed the world. The oth­er raw mate­ri­als used for the growth of Fusar­i­um strain flavolapis into Fy Pro­tein are com­mon ingre­di­ents like nitro­gen and car­bon used in fer­men­ta­tion and enzyme pro­duc­tion industries. 

Step 2: Inoculation

This step takes Fusar­i­um str. flavolapis and com­bines it with the media, or liq­uid, in the fer­menter. We feed the microbe a diet of sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates and oth­er nutri­ents to uti­lize as it grows into a com­plete protein. 

Step 3: Fermentation

Then, we grow Fy via fer­men­ta­tion of the cul­ture in a growth cham­ber, a fan­cy term for Fy’s first home. Our 4‑story cham­ber has the per­fect con­di­tions to opti­mal­ly grow a tray of Fy with­in 72 hours.

Step 4: Harvest

Once we grow Fy, it’s then ready for har­vest­ing just like any oth­er crop. The Fy formed is removed from the growth cham­ber using a series of sim­ple steps to deliv­er a con­sis­tent and sta­ble ingre­di­ent for all of our final food products.

Step 5: Deactivation

Fy is then nat­u­ral­ly treat­ed to final­ize the ingre­di­ent, dis­con­tin­u­ing fur­ther growth through steam­ing and rins­ing off any remain­ing media.

Step 6: Dewatering

Fy is extreme­ly ver­sa­tile, so depend­ing on what we are using it for, we can remove all the water to make a dried flour, add more water to cre­ate a liq­uid like milk, or main­tain a moist bio­mass good for mak­ing alter­na­tive meats.

The pos­si­bil­i­ties for final food prod­ucts are vast once we have Fy all ready to go!

Trans­paren­cy in Food Pro­duc­tion Systems

Now, you know all about Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fer­men­ta­tion and the mak­ing of our Fy Protein.

We’re cur­rent­ly pro­duc­ing Fy in our state-of-the-art facil­i­ty in the Old Union Stock­yards of Chica­go, the for­mer meat­pack­ing cap­i­tal of the world, but apply­ing a rad­i­cal­ly trans­par­ent lens to our pro­tein pro­duc­tion processes.

There’s noth­ing scary to see here, except nature and sci­ence com­ing togeth­er to do its thing! 

One of the coolest things about our fer­men­ta­tion method is that, in a con­trolled growth envi­ron­ment and with the prop­er sup­plies, Fy could be grown just about any­where, unlike crops or rais­ing live­stock. We see this as a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty for mak­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ly-friend­ly and healthy food acces­si­ble wher­ev­er it might be need­ed, from dis­as­ter relief zones to urban food deserts.

We’re even work­ing with NASA to exper­i­ment with grow­ing Fy in space onboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space Station…but that’s anoth­er sto­ry that you’ll have to stay tuned to hear! For now, you’re an expert on our Liq­uid-Air Inter­face Fer­men­ta­tion and that’s def­i­nite­ly a one small step for all, one giant leap for humankind’ sce­nario too.

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