Profile story: CLP20 European Regional Final winner Synthesea

It takes 816 fish to put one salmon on your plate
Synthesea is putting a stop to that with their sustainable alternative to fish oil

Fish need omega-3 to grow rapidly and be nutritious. For farmed fish the source of omega-3 comes from wild-caught fish oil, which is made by squeezing fish caught from the wild. This is why it takes 816 fish to put just one salmon on your plate.

In fact, 18 million tonnes of wild fish are used to produce fish feed and fish oil every year. This kind of overfishing destroys oceanic ecosystems and pushes up prices for aquafeed companies, aquafarmers and consumers.

UK based start-up Synthesea decided to tackle this highly unsustainable practice. They are building a biological platform to produce sustainable omega-3 for aquaculture, that’s up to 80% cheaper than fish oil.

52% of the fish we eat come from aquaculture
Aquaculture was worth $ 169 billion in 2015.  Synthesea plans on driving that industry towards sustainability by disrupting the value chain with their omega-3 oil. They are developing a novel bacterial strain that converts cheap plant oils to higher value omega-3. Not only is their omega-3 up to 80% cheaper, it is also of high purity and free of the heavy metals found in wild-caught fish products.

Aramis, Co-founder at Synthesea: “We are deeply disturbed by the mass destruction of marine life ecosystems caused by overfishing. This drove us to examine the economic forces behind overfishing and found that the aquaculture industry, although seemingly a sustainable producer of seafood, consumes massive numbers of wild-caught fish. With our extensive knowledge of synthetic biology, we were able to focus on fish oil as a vital product in the aquaculture value chain as this was ripe for innovation.”

Developing the business
“The ClimateLaunchpad Boot Camp was invaluable for our business development,” says Ting, Team Lead of Synthesea. “It got us thinking about how we were going to scale and reach our market in the next 5 years. It also completely shaped our thinking and approach towards market research, helping us find the many potential customers who expressed interest in our products and potential future collaborations.”

Synthesea’s performance led the team to win the 3rd prize at the Regional Final Europe, which landed them a spot in the Global Grand Final. “Being invited to the Global Final of the ClimateLaunchpad competition was the most inspiring and rewarding moment for our entire team. Sharing our hard work with the world was very exciting. The magic of the event was also in the atmosphere of a collective of liked-minded innovators with a green vision for the future.”

About the Synthesea team
All team members study at the Imperial College in London, all enrolled in studies in different fields. Collectively they combine backgrounds in synthetic biology, biomedicine and chemistry. What brought them together was a drive to contribute to a better planet.

They wanted to focus on issues that weren’t necessarily obvious. “We found out about the whole issue surrounding aquaculture by coincidence but immediately started thinking about how we could use synthetic biology to create a circular and sustainable alternative,” Ting explains.

ClimateLaunchpad is not alone in recognizing Synthesea’s potential, the team won several other awards and grants with their idea: Thought for Food Global Challenge (Grow the Future Prize), London Business School’s Cleantech Challenge 2020, University Startup World Cup, Imperial College Pioneer Fund, and iCube’s CIPTA 2020 competition.

Future plans
Right now the team is busy developing the omega-3 oil for aquaculture and aims to significantly reduce the devastating disruption of the ocean’s ecosystem. And they already have other markets in mind, pharmaceuticals being a big one. “The vegan omega-3 supplement market is only growing, and lab grown fish are potentially a massive market that could one day overshadow aquaculture.”

Want to know more? Check out and watch The Global Grand Final pitch of Synthesea:

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