Noblegen, now an industry trailblazer, began in a basement lab when CEO & Founder, Adam Noble, was a high school student. His discoveries with euglena, a single-cell organism with both plant and animal characteristics producing sustainable, efficient, and nutritious protein ingredients, has the power to transform the industry.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. My guest today is the founder and CEO of Noblegen. Please welcome Adam Noble.
Adam Noble: Thank you very much for having me today.
Nicole Astra: So we have talked with you before with the incredible distinction of being a finalist for Corn Foods Innovation Challenge. But before we get into that, I want you to take me all the way back to why euglena? And why you saw that as a solution. How did that come about?
Adam Noble: Well, it was definitely a very interesting origin to my story. It started as a science fair project in grade 10 for me, where I was growing up on a lake and I was seeing the water quality change around me. And I wanted to come up with a different way to test water quality that would be able to indicate the impact that it was having on the living things in the water ecosystem. And I looked at different indicators, species, and different biological techniques. And euglena was something that really stood out to me because it's called a protist, which means it has plants and animal-like characteristics, and science hasn't really been able to fully put it into a category, but from an environmental standpoint, it has a perfect ability to be able to represent both the animals and plants from an environmental sensitivity standpoint.
So my first work really focused in on using it as an indicator species to look at water quality and it actually came to be by accident that it ended up being able to filter out contaminants out of the water as a coping mechanism to being exposed to the contaminants. So the first technology that we founded the company on was using it as a filtration technology for water and being able to selectively remove contaminants or valuable materials out of water. So today we're focused on using the biomass or human consumption and growing it in food-grade, sterile environments. So very, very different from original applications, but still a part of the broader vision of where the company is going to be going in the future.
Nicole Astra: And when did it take traction and how did you get people on board with this in order to fund your research?
Adam Noble: Well actually, when I was in grade 10, I was doing my science for project to help one of my friends who was not doing so well in my science class. My teachers convinced me to take it to the science fair. And after I presented at the university, the local researchers invited me to work at their labs instead of doing my research in my parents' basement. So I accepted their offer and I guess the rest is history now. So since then I was able to gain a lot of international attention and I was able to represent Canada at a number of international competitions. And after graduating grade 12, I went on to study surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. And before leaving to go overseas, I founded the company and after gaining momentum, I decided to leave my studies about three years in to lead the company through the aggressive stages of growth that we're now in.
Nicole Astra: Aggressive growth is right. Walk me through your technology and your commitment to sustainability.
Adam Noble: So it really all goes back to that same unique characteristic that originally inspired me around euglena that it's able to function like a plant and an animal at the same time. So when we think about a sustainable protein production today, we're really focused on using plant-based proteins to replace animals, but we know that plants can only go so far from a nutritional and functional standpoint. So because euglena can function like a plant and an animal, we tap into the sustainability and efficiencies of its metabolism that functions like a plant, but then we're able to coax it into producing proteins that function like meat or like eggs, that's part of its animal based metabolism. And because euglena is so old, it actually evolved billions of years ago before there was this distinction between animals and plants. So we're really just tapping into that unique multifaceted ability of what this amazing cell is able to do.
Nicole Astra: And I think it's important to mention it's classified as vegan, correct?
Adam Noble: Exactly. Yes. And really important for us to make sure that even though scientifically, it functions like an animal cell, we've talked with PIDA and we've got their backing that our products are animal friendly and are vegan certified.
Nicole Astra: And tell me what challenges you have found solutions for using euglena.
Adam Noble: Well, I think that the biggest challenge for almost every biotechnology is the ability to scale and get to economics that can actually change the world. And for me, it's always been about being able to get our technology to a scale where we can actually change the world and transition to a more sustainable future. And because of euglena's unique metabolism, we've been able to utilize raw materials that are found on every continent of the world. So in the industry today, we have one of the only technologies that can build a robust supply chain that can be manufactured all over the world. So today we're working on securing supply chain and manufacturing arrangements on pretty much every continent of the world right now, and being able to produce localized and decentralized manufacturing processes with the next generation technology like this, it's amazing. And I definitely did not expect that euglena was going to have as many tricks up its sleeve as it did, but it continues to amaze us every day.
Nicole Astra: And how are you controlling manufacturing in other countries?
Adam Noble: So we work with tolling manufacturing. So say, fermentation is a very broad industrial manufacturing technique going from brewing beer or manufacturing, different functional ingredients. So because euglena is able to grow in many different ways, we can utilize many different types of fermentation assets around the world. So that gives us a huge advantage when we're securing enough volume to build the produce for some of the largest brands in the world that we don't just have to use one type of manufacturing facility. And we also don't have to make our own facilities. Obviously, if we build our own, it's going to be more efficient, but to be able to get to scale in economics today, we're able to utilize the existing fermentation network that's been industrialized for over a hundred years. So it's really amazing to be able to get to market and go the speed as which we are today.
Nicole Astra: And what ingredients are you making and who's your customer?
Adam Noble: So today, our first ingredient that came to market is our protein flour, which is just the whole cell of euglena. And I like to compare it to a whole egg powder, where it's got the functional and nutritional benefits of being rich in protein, but it also has carbohydrates and fat. And then you need carbohydrates of euglena, called beta glucan. It actually stimulates your immune system and has a probiotic effect. So that's our first ingredient and we've been able to develop it into crisps and texturized protein that could be used in granola bars or different snacks or turned into meat analogs as well. And today we're working with a number of international food companies. None of the partnerships are public today, but I'm excited to be hopefully going to be announcing those in the coming months.
Nicole Astra: Well, and we hope you do so here on Talking Plant Protein. What sets those ingredients apart from other proteins?
Adam Noble: So today we have the most sustainable and nutrition complete proteins that can be produced without animals. And I like to consider euglena as a microbial livestock, because when you put euglena into these manufacturing facilities, you can feed it inputs that are at the same, very low cost is what you can feed our livestock today. But instead of having a five to 10% feed conversion into protein, we can have upwards of 80, 90% conversion into our products. So when you think about from an environmental standpoint and land utilization standpoint, there is not another technology that comes close to the metrics that we're able to achieve with our technology.
Nicole Astra: And did joining Future Food Tech and becoming a finalist with Corn really highlight that for you? Have you gotten more interest in the company?
Adam Noble: 100%. I think up until the past two years, we've been very much focused on the applications of our ingredients. And like I said, the flours were the main focus and now being able to generate our protein concentrate in isolates, our beta glucan isolate and oils is going to be transformative for the industry to be able to replace ingredients like titanium dioxide and palm oil or whey protein with a sustainable source like this. To think that you can make everything from one organism that doesn't require genetic modification. It almost sounds too good to be true. I remember one of my first investor pitches, they asked if I was pitching alchemy and I said, "Pretty much." You could think of it like that because what this organism can do compared to what we think is biologically possible, just blows everything out of the water.
And I think it just shows too that our science is only just scratching the surface of what microorganisms can do. And to think that we've only looked at under one percent of what the microbes are here on this planet, we have so much more work to do. And I think euglena may be the most intelligent organism known to science today, but there is so much more to discover and Noblegen is positioning to be on the cutting edge of that. And we're not stomping our discovery work. And I think knowing that we know nothing is what I like to tell our scientists, why we continue to work in the lab. Even though we have some of the best products in the world, we know that we can do better.
Nicole Astra: Well, you've pretty much answered my next question, which is what's next for Noblegen, but let's talk about funding. You've just announced a new series C. Tell us, why invest?
Adam Noble: Well, if you're wanting to be a part of the future, then invest in Noblegen, because we're making the future possible and really imagining the unimaginable with these amazing microorganisms. I feel like we're starting a journey of similar capacity of when we were setting our sights on walking on the moon. And I see a very, very humbling experience for me. It's almost like looking back on the planet and seeing how small we are looking at the micro verse and how euglena is positioned as this amazing organism, but there's still so much more there that we know nothing compared to what is still out there. So it's going to be truly exciting to go on this journey.
Nicole Astra: And also I've heard a rumor that although you did not win the Corn Food Innovation Challenge, there is a partnership brewing between Noblegen and Corn.
Adam Noble: Yeah. So I'm really excited to be pursuing a potential partnership there. I think any technologies that are built with the power of microbes and building a sustainable future that is available to consumers at a cost competitive and nutritionally competitive platform is definitely the type of groups we want to be working with. And I think the Corn products are amazing and they were one of the first brands trailblazing in this space. So being able to be working with them would be an amazing opportunity for us.
Nicole Astra: Exciting times. Thank you Adam for joining us.
Adam Noble: Thank you very much.