With global shrimp populations quickly declining from overfishing and warmer ocean temperatures, a shrimp cocktail could come with a side of guilt. But America’s most popular seafood could be getting an environmentally friendly makeover.
New Wave Foods, a San Francisco-based sustainable seafood startup, is developing a lab-grown "shrimp" made from algae that could be as nutritious as the real deal.
Photo credit: Flickr
The New Wave team consists of three women with a combined professional background in environmentalism to take on this ambitious task: Dominique Barnes is an oceanography graduate and former shark caretaker at Las Vegas’s Golden Nugget Hotel, Michelle Wolf is a materials scientist and engineer, and Jennifer Kaehms has a bioengineering degree from the University of California San Diego.
The trio set out to create "a smarter and better way to feed the planet with creating culinary experiences that pay tribute to the rich history and tradition of seafood."
The company's original goal was to find a replacement for the controversial shark fin, a delicacy in China. But the team switched to synthetic shrimp due to its massive popularity in the U.S. The average American peels through roughly 4 pounds of shrimp a year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries). About 6 million tons of shrimp are consumed worldwide per year.
The world's fondness for this crustacean comes at a cost. For instance, Maine’s Northern shrimp haul plummeted from 12 million pounds in 2010 to just 563,313 pounds in 2013.
Additionally, the shrimp sold at the market is likely tainted with illegal antibiotic residues, and it might not even be shrimp at all. A report from Oceana, which did DNA testing on 143 shrimp products, found that as much as 30 percent of shrimp sold in grocery stores and markets is being misrepresented with rampant species substitution.
“If you look at seafood, you have to look at the food miles, how it’s being caught, and there’s a lot of mislabeling,” Kaehms told Vice Motherboard. “We’re really focusing on sustainable seafood, that’s our core motivation.”
♡ the ambitious & great team @NewWaveFoods @Dom___Barnes @meeshwolf c: @indbio @IFLScience https://t.co/5ZWyUw73o5 https://t.co/F3kMK76vwy— Jenny Kaehms (@Jenny Kaehms)1447527817.0
New Wave is experimenting with different ways of extracting and mixing protein from algae to get their product to have the same taste, texture and nutritional value as real shrimp, Kaehms told Motherboard.
The type of algae being used is also the same strain that shrimp eat, meaning it will likely have a similar nutritional value to the real thing, Motherboard reported.
The team said that they have managed to replicate the flavor of shrimp, but would not reveal any specifics on how they did it.
“That’s our secret sauce,” Kaehms said.
As Fast Company notes, while there are vegetarian shrimp options on the market today, they don't have the same low fat and high protein as the real thing. Barnes told the publication that the company is currently working on nailing down the texture.
"Our goal is to make something that tastes great—that you could put in any of your favorite shrimp dishes," Barnes said.
Florian Radke, a marketing specialist with New Wave Foods, told IFLScience that the company is trying to make the product "as close as possible to what people are used to eating, including the change of color of the food when it's cooked.”
According to IFLScience, "that means the finished synthetic shrimp will taste and feel like the real thing, while also undergoing a grey-pink transition during cooking."
The company has received a $250,000 investment from IndieBio, a science-focused startup incubator. New Wave will debut their product at an IndieBio demo in early February 2016.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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