Episode 26 – Alt-protein and emerging growth factors with Maurice Moloney

Oct 26, 2023

In this episode, I have the great pleasure of having our first guest, Maurice Moloney, make a return appearance to revisit what’s been happening in protein over the past two years since our first discussion. Coming off the back of the International Rapeseed Congress (in September 2023), we explore the decline, or indeed collapse, of the alt-meat market and what the prospects are for it reaching its next growth phase. The role of plant sciences in supporting the alt-protein scale up, and particularly brassica species, is also explored.

We specifically reflect on the importance of ingredients in the alt-protein space and Maurice’s interest in growth factors for cellular agriculture through Core Biogenesis. We discuss the importance of a diversity of addressable markets for emerging technologies and product offerings.

The importance of alternative casein for alt-dairy markets is discussed through the lens of Miruku, where Maurice is in a science advisory role and we also reflect on the utility of safflower as an oilseed, not only for Miruku but also the role it has played from its use in the Crop Biofactories Initiative (funded by GRDC and CSIRO) and currently being commercialised by Go Resources.

Maurice shares his reflections on the challenges that plant-science can address for alt-protein and the importance of processing technologies to improve texture and mouth feel in this product category. We close our discussions reflecting on the emerging opportunities and challenges for the alt-protein market.


CB: Hello everyone, and welcome to Tech Transfer Talk. My name is Cameron Begley, and today we have the unusual opportunity of having our guest live with us at my desk, Maurice Maloney, who joined us in the very first episode some two years ago, has found his way to Australia, and we’re very lucky to get some time with him today to catch up on what’s happened since we talked about protein, all the way back in September of a couple of years ago. Maurice, welcome back.

MM: Well, it’s great, Cameron, I’m so pleased to be back. And you know how much I love Oz.

CB: I do.

MM: And all the wonderful things that are going on right now. We had an interesting week because we’ve been at the International Rapeseed Conference...

CB: We have.

MM: And we have learned an awful lot about proteins and oils.

CB: So, we’ve been in the protein business. Absolutely. So, when we first caught up, Maurice, on the podcast at least, because it goes back further than that., when we first caught up, we talked about protein and back in 2021, protein and alt protein in particular. It was all the rage. It was like wearing a little handkerchief in the top pocket of your jacket. Everyone had to do it, apparently. Things have changed a bit since then, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on what you’ve witnessed from Europe and on your travels, and you know, what happened?

MM: So, I’m sensing ‘I told you so’ moment. But no, I think it’s a very apropos question. So yeah, there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about the potential for the alt protein business. Basically, first of all, plant proteins supplanting animal proteins in a whole variety of different applications. It’s not entirely new, of course, because there were already protein products substituting for meat. But on the other hand, what we’ve seen, first of all, is a plethora of companies that have got into the game. It was fundable. They got into the game and, you know, the window was wide open. But if you actually went through and had a look at the wide…the large number of companies, there wasn’t a wide variety of technology out there. So, distinguishing one company’s offering from another was difficult. And so, what we’ve seen now are in the second round of funding, these are people have gone from seed round to a series A, there’s been a lot of dropouts, people who’ve had that, notwithstanding the fact that, you know, the whole area has suffered generally post-Covid. Although, theoretically there was quite a lot of cash out there. There’s been a little bit more hesitancy about taking these big risks.

CB: Yeah.

MM: Now you’ve got, you know, you’ve also got really the big players Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. And we always thought, well, you know, how far can this go? You know, can they really be multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Probably not. There’s only a finite amount of uptake for something like that. So that’s something we’ve seen.

CB: Yeah.

MM: Slowing down the investor ability, even of the companies that were considered to be the most innovative and the furthest along in product cycles. Lots of others have fallen by the wayside because they haven’t had a distinct product offering. And you can only make so much, let’s call it replacements for ground beef or ground chicken. And, you know, the challenge is always going to be about building meat substitutes that actually have substance like a whole cut and so on. That is processing technology as much as it is sources of protein. And so, my feeling is that processing technology has still not been generating the kind of innovation that will be necessary for it to be successful.

CB: Yeah, a lot of interesting perspectives in all of that. And I’d like to go back to that idea. Firstly, if it was fundable? And certainly amongst folks that I’ve spoken to, I pretty much hold the view. There was a lot of cheap and easy money around, you know, sort of in that block from, say, 2017 to 2020, those years leading into Covid, if you like. So, was it fundable because the money was cheap?

MM: Probably exactly that. I mean there’s a certain trend value associated with these things. And if funds did have cash, which they certainly did during Covid, people were saving. And, you know, there was a lot of cash available. But cash availability doesn’t mean good investments.

CB: No, no. They are separate concepts,

MM: They’re absolutely different. And I think what we’ve seen is, yes, there was a run on those easy investments, and then with much less questioning about, you know, the diligence that is necessary to justify $1 million or $2 million investment. And now we’re back to the real harsh reality of due diligence. And what are the key components? Yyou know, we can have all kinds of offerings for protein substitutes, but we will need distinctiveness. You know what makes you distinctive from five other companies that are trying to get the same money? Secondly, barriers to entry. People forget this, but you know, barriers to entry are quite different from simply saying ‘we’re the first mover’.

CB: Yeah, that’s not a barrier to entry.

MM: Yeah. So, you know, there’s been a dearth of true intellectual property that gave people edges. And then I think, one’s got a look and say, ‘Are there niches that that actually do represent unmet goals, unmet needs that would be important in the food industry?’ And, you know, one of those is clearly, although we’ve had proteins from meat, we’ve had all kinds of protein lipid emulsions that manifest themselves as milk substitutes.

CB: Yes, that’s the old dairy space. 

MM: Yep, but what’s… even in the old dairy space, the thing that’s critical…nobody has come up with anything like a cheese, for example, that is based on a plant protein.

CB: Or if they have, perhaps not a particularly good one,

MM: Not a particularly good one. Yeah. Exactly. So, so this you know, if it’s Velveeta, we already had that. So, it doesn’t help. What we’re looking for are innovations in that space, which are a combination of germplasm, and the accumulation of the right proteins, and then the processing technology that goes along with it.

CB: So that’s interesting. That brings us to the technology question. And you raised it ,just in your opening remarks there, Maurice, around the variety of technology offerings. So, when we first chatted about this, you were, I think, talking optimistically about the role of engineering plant proteins. And, you know, the idea that most of the work had been into the oil seeds in the yield and plant protein was suitable for the gut of an animal. Not really thought about guts for humans. So, do you see that as part of that lack of variety of technology offerings, or are you thinking far more broadly than that?

MM: Certainly, the former is true because one of the things we want to be able to do is expand beyond proteins for animal feed to proteins, high quality proteins, for human food. And that would be a very good market, provided the products are sufficiently interesting to attract a consumer. But, you know, at the moment, there’s just a lot of fuzziness in that area. You know, why would you buy that versus something else? But I’m still a strong believer in the idea that we can intervene either with genome editing or proper genetic engineering. The interesting thing is, of course, which species you would go for. So, once you’re beyond soybean, soybean’s got a sort of limited contribution to this whole thing. Pea has become very important…

CB: Yes. Yeah.

MM: …as a source of novel protein. And it can be extruded. It’s got good textural properties, but, pea is very difficult to genetically manipulate. Probably more difficult than soybean, although we’ve been at soybean for a long time. So, here’s the challenge to young companies out there. If you’ve got good technology for either editing or transforming pea, field pea, large scale, that’s valuable technology… that would be a good place to have patents, because barrier to entry. And then the opportunity to partner with some of the food companies. Now, you know, it has been said the food companies are allergic to the idea of GMOs. But obviously that’s not entirely true.

CB: No.

MM: They accept transgenic soybeans, with many different modifications. And there’s a big enough market, just in North and South America, to justify that kind of technology.

CB: There’s a very diverse range of views from brand owners about the role of GM in their food products and even in FMCG or CPG more generally. But when we talk about that lack of variety of technology, you know, that’s the crop side of it. So, from what we’ve seen over the last two or three years, is that lack of technology offerings, is that simply that, everyone gave you an analog of ground beef or ground something? And, so there was really no differentiation other than maybe the combination or the recipe brought forward.

MM: Yeah. I mean, there’s only so much vegan lasagna that you can sell,

CB: Or eat for that matter.

MM: Yeah, or eat for that matter. So, if somebody’s coming along with a very distinctive product offering, then they will carve out a bit of the space. Now, I still think there is an opportunity for a confluence between modification of proteins in seeds and processing technology. So, in other words, you modify in order to enable certain types of processing. The big issue that still remains in this space is texture.

CB: Yes.

MM: And so, we can actually alter flavour, if you start out with something fairly bland. Unfortunately, pea’s not quite bland enough. But let’s just say you had a protein that was pretty bland, you can add flavours and you can make it taste like anything you want to. So that’s not necessarily too hard. Getting the right texture in the mouthfeel has still been a bit of an intractable problem, and that’s where I think. if we’re looking at for innovation, there’s probably a confluence between, let’s change protein structure in the seed that is commensurate with some of the extrusion technology that we currently have.

CB: Right, OK, interesting.

MM: And if there’s companies out there that can sit on both sides of that table, the processing side and the genetic side, they may be able to make a difference and to be strategic relationships they could form.

CB: Yeah, I have heard it said that there are only five problems with the old meat market and that is taste, texture, price, nutrition and sustainability. I don’t think I’ve missed any of them there. The price piece, of course, I think is part of the problem, a big part of the problem, because again, from what I’ve read, you weren’t making an offering that was more compelling than animal-based products. There are people that will pay that, of course, and that, and that’s fine. That’s what markets are meant to do. What I suspect has shaken out through these last couple of years, from my reading at least, is that there are not enough of those people out there who are prepared to pay overs because they don’t put enough of a premium on the animal versus vegetarian option.

MM: Yeah. And there was a tacit assumption that that would be there.

CB: Absolutely.

MM: And market. Yeah. So, no I completely agree with that. And it is you know; you might say, there’s a sixth thing that’s missing here. Let’s call it product perception. One of the things that’s been blowing up in our faces is, you know, we are saying we’re producing healthy alternatives to meat with sustainability and etcetera, etcetera. So that’s the rhetoric. But then people have begun to say, well, let me just see how you make those products. And they turn out to look much more highly processed,

CB: The ultra-processing issue.

MM: And then the ultra-processing issue comes to bite, what was very good intention, the product initially. And I think, you know, it’s hard to get away from the fact that although there has been innovation, even in the, you know, our friends at Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, when you actually look and say, ‘Well, what has happened to make that burger’, it begins to look like it’s highly processed. So, there is a perception, it’s going to have to be dealt with.

CB: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. But so that’s where we ended two years ago. And it’s fair to say that notwithstanding, you know, the ongoing rise, subsequent fall and to be fair, the current recovery of those markets, they will correct, like all innovation curves and, and find their niche and…or their markets. But you yourself have been off on some new adventures which are pretty intrinsically related to this alt protein space. And indeed, since we spoke in episode one, even our activities have been drawn in on the ingredient side of that through our partnership with Crush Dynamics. I’m interested in core biogenesis and because they are not competitive yet, I suspect highly complementary both with an E and an I.

MM: Yes. So. What I think is interesting, is you mentioned the term ingredient. So, a lot of companies have been positioning themselves as producing the whole final product. And ultimately, you know, there will be some companies that succeed in exactly that, what their market will be like, and their market cap will be like, remains to be seen. But I think there’s still a big space for the ingredients’ market. And so that is something. So, you become part of the supply chain. But you’re not trying to bring produce the final answer. So, this is what we’ve really focused on with the core of our genesis is a company in France, headquartered in Strasbourg in France, and gone through a couple of rounds of financing. Now, we’ve finished a series A about 18 months ago, and we’ll probably go through another funding round before too long. But the space that we’re targeting here is actually to produce ingredients. The ingredients in question have multiple uses. And so, this is, it’s the redundancy of use that gives us a little, it’s the same technology for everything but the redundancy of use which gives us some market flexibility. The original idea, and this still obtains, is that the whole cellular meat business, so, the idea of producing muscle cells from stem cells and in large scale culture, the price of, that is driven by the cost of media. And if you say, ‘Well, what’s the most expensive items in the media?’ It’s growth factors, growth factors and mammalian growth factors, are generally quite expensive. They tend to be fairly small proteins. You try and express them in E. coli in normal fermentation. They do tend to get degraded by proteolytic degradation. But they also often bind endotoxin. And then you’ve got to spend money in order to clean out the endotoxin, in order to have a clean product. So, there are serious expenses, especially at scale, using what you might call conventional fermentation. So, Core have taken a different tack. Let’s make these things in plants, specifically in seeds, and the idea of using seeds, and this has already been demonstrated previously, once we lay down a protein in seeds, as long as we dry the seed down to typically about 8% moisture or less, that protein will stay stable for years.

CB: Right.

MM: You can store that seed. So, what you. are able to do is decouple the growing season from the supply of the product.

CB: Interesting,

MM: Because it’s cheap to produce, you know, 50 tonnes of seed, and then that 50 tonnes of seed could provide you with enough substrate to keep you going for four years.

CB: Yeah.

MM: So that way, like I said, you’re not worried about growing season once you once you’ve grown enough. And obviously it’s very different from fermentation. And so, the challenges are all around purification and producing a product that’s commensurate with the particular industry. Well, the cellular meat industry, you know, that is basically high sterility environment.

CB: Absolutely.

MM: They can’t lose, you know, 10,000-litre fermenter because of contamination. And so, it’s very high specificity product that’s got to be produced there. But you know we’ve been in field trials with this. We’re scaling it up. We’ve got scalable technology that we’ve already demonstrated previously. And you know, hope that is one of the markets that we will be able to service. The business you know, the idea of selling the meat has to survive long enough for us.

CB: Well, I was, yes, I was going to touch on that.

MM: But a chicken and egg you know.

CB: Yeah. If you’ll pardon the animal pun. So, a couple of things within that, the fact that you’re looking at multiple markets. So that gives a bit of, as you say, a bit of redundancy and gives you some opportunities to play into different markets, not completely depending on the cellular egg market which, which we just touched on.

MM: Right.

CB: But I get the feeling that you’re drawing on the good old days of symbiosis in amongst all of this. Is there a bit of a truth in that, or am I on the wrong path?

MM: I think you’re on the right path with respect to the core processing technology. We’ve actually switched over to using camelina as the host, and camelina has some major benefits. The biggest benefit is speed. So, you don’t have to go through tissue culture and so on in order to produce transgenic camelina. You can do range finding very quickly. It took us ages in safflower previously to get the elite lines. And so, that’s the reason for the choice of camelina. Otherwise, it’s got very few downsides. There are good commercial varieties that can yield more than two tonnes per hectare. And so, from a financial viability point of view, most of the things are there. But the specification of these proteins. So, we talked about cellular meat, using exactly the same proteins for cellular immunotherapy.

CB: Right.

MM: And that has to be, if you take it as a CGMP quality product, so again, a level of specification that’s even higher. Perfectly feasible to do. And you do get the margins associated with delivering to the market a quality, a product of that specification. But building up the volumes, it’s a value versus volume play.

CB: Yeah. Yeah. And I think you just wandered into that question I was going to ask. And so, the tech transfer challenges in this. So that sounds to me like a bit of a market challenge, but in building out this platform to make it suitable for market, what are some of the challenges that you’ve come across so far on the on the Core Biogenesis adventure?

MM: Right. So, for the cellular meat business, basically, what we need to be able to do, is to deliver, you know, a product appropriate specification that can be filtered, so that you’re adding sterile, filtered material to the fermenter. But of course, they need quantity. So, the thing that persuades that market that it’s viable, is that you can handle that kind of scale,

CB: Right. Okay.

MM: That’s very different from the cellular immunotherapy market, for example, where the volumes required are a lot less, at the moment. But the specification of the product has got to be extremely high. You can’t take risk. Technically, these aren’t injected into people because you actually grow the cells outside of people. And then those cells are filtered washed, filtered, washed before they’re reinfused into humans.

CB: Be that as it may.

MM: Yeah. Yeah. But obviously all the stuff about virus-free, no endotoxin, etcetera, has got to be…that’s got to be clear. So, but those markets, you know, there’s only one way to get into them, honestly. You can’t just walk up to somebody who’s doing clinical trials and say, ‘Oh we’ve got this new cheap growth factor for you.’ They cannot change at that…

CB: No, no, no.

MM: You’re committed.

CB: You’ve got to be in at the beginning of those things ,or go back and start again with your substitute or alternative ingredient.

MM: Exactly. So that’s the hard part.

CB: So that’s an interesting tradeoff for Core Biogenesis in a sense, that you’re in a nascent emerging market with the cellular Ag. But so, there may be a bit of a shorter loop in terms of getting acceptance and sign off but the volume question exists. And can you meet the scale and, hopefully growing it in plant sort of, you know, just add more acres or hectares for those in the SI world. But for your therapeutics entry, that is going to take a long time. So, from an investor’s perspective, having two horses in the race, kind of makes some sense. I suspect there may be others, because the therapeutics is going to be high value but long term to build the market, in contrast to the cellular Ag play, which, because it’s so nascent and notionally of infinite scale, will be, well we’ll let the market sort that out in due course, that will be more tractable sooner.

MM: Yeah. So, the way to approach this, because as I said, you can’t go to a cellular immunotherapy company and say ‘Substitute what you’re using for our product.’ That won’t happen. So, what we’ve got to do is work with academics and institutes that are doing the, if you like, the model systems, right, in order that you can validate in their systems, things that they want to bring into clinical trials. And so, what we have concentrated on is a research-only market initially. It’s big enough for us to start to make money. And we believe investors will look at it and say, ‘Okay, if you can make small profits doing that’, then that is your entree into one of the more successful proponents of a particular therapy, that will move into clinical trials and eventually that will be licensed.

CB: Fantastic. Yeah. Yeah. No, the research supply market, a nice market to start with.

MM: And there’s 2 or 3 different ways of getting into it. Obviously, you can do business-to-business. You can actually set up a system whereby academics can just log into your website and buy hundreds of milligrams of a particular protein. But also, there are major media delivery companies, you know, Life Technologies, which is owned by Thermo Fisher, and SigMol

CB: Which is sort of like some distribution partners…

MM: They sell media, so, you become partner with them. To deliver into their media. Now they’ll have very high specifications, and they’ll want to know that you can continue to deliver once you’re there. But there’s ways…

CB: Give you market access.

MM: It gives you market. Now there’s one other thing, of course, that can be done with all of these. And that’s the personal care space. And the barrier to entry there is a lot lower. And already there exist a variety of products around the world that contain growth factors. They never go through the same kind of true clinical evaluation thatan ethical pharmaceutical would. But there are some very convincing peer reviewed papers from dermatology labs and so on, which show that some of the, for example, fibroblast growth factor has very significant effects on fine wrinkles around the eyes and so on. And so, we would look to that as a shorter-term market because we know how to do cosmetic formulations from the extracts.

CB: Yeah. And just for those that are listening today, let me assure you, neither Maurice nor I require a product that deals with wrinkles around the eyes. But nonetheless, there are people that feel that they do need that product.

MM: Apparently, 1 or 2 around the world.

CB: there may be 1 or 2, but, and hopefully for Core, more than one or two so that those sales tick over. Just, I’d like to change tack. The personal care is an interesting place to sort of change tack a little bit because, the other other adventure, if we go all the way back to alt protein and people’s choices and the way people feel about their purchases, is that old dairy space that we touched on early on, and lots of actors trying to move into the ingredient space as much as they’re trying to find the proteins to do it, they’re trying to find the ingredients. Your other interest is actually back in the proteins. And going back to one of my old favorite crops, which is safflower, that I was able to work with the CSIRO, and indeed, you worked with at Symbiosis, so, I’d be interested to know very quickly about what Miruku is trying to do, but then just to sort of very quickly, sort of explore so, what what’s the challenge in getting it done.

MM: Right. So, first of all, Miruku is a New Zealand and Australian company. Miruku actually means milk in Japanese.

CB: So there’s the name. Thank you, thank you.

MM: And it’s interesting because it is now a very targeted technology. There’s a lot of alt proteins that we can make in plants in seeds, but we’ve never really solved this problem of making a decent cheese. I mean, real cheese, not sort of processed stuff that we occasionally put in our hamburgers. So, you know, there’s no reason at all, first of all, why that can’t be done. It’s been demonstrated that we can make casein, for example, in seeds and Miruku’s working on this. We have proof of concept in a couple of species that probably won’t be used for commercial purposes. And then we move it into safflower.

CB: Yeah. Okay.

MM: Now a few people said, ‘Why on Earth, safflower?’ Safflower is a is a bit of a tricky one. But this is all to do with finding a critical path that helps the regulators approve something like this. Simply stated, although you could do some of these things in major acreage crops like soybean. You don’t want to do it in soybean, and the soybean growers don’t want us to do it in soybean, because now you’ve got a milk protein that could adventitiously show up in commodity soybean. Some milk proteins…there are people with allergic reactions to some milk proteins. And so, what you want to make sure, of course, is that you don’t have the presence of an allergenic protein somewhere that nobody expects it. This is why we thought a low acreage crop that actually produces very nice, not only recombinant proteins, because we’ve worked on that for a long time in seeds, but actually, all the byproducts are beautiful as well. The protein itself is high. The byproduct protein storage protein, very good quality. And also, the oil or the oil bodies if you want to make it that way, are also extremely good in all kinds of food processing. So that’s why we’ve chosen it for regulatory reasons. And the fact that that the byproducts will also be beneficial.

CB: And it’s a fascinating line of argument, Maurice, because if I go back to what we were doing in a program called Biofactories when I was at CSIRO, and it was funded by GRDC, the moment of truth came where we had to pick a crop. And the logic that we went through is, ‘Well, there’s all these oilseeds you can do’ because we were focused on oil expression. And it was, ‘Well, what would make it easier for the regulator that we could identity preserve, that it wouldn’t create cross contamination, but it was still a crop’, almost, we almost called it a second-tier crop, at the time. It was a crop that could be grown but wasn’t a global crop. And I remember the conversation, you know, we knocked off all the major oil seeds, and then we took out some of what were then emerging oil seed platform as Carinata, Camelina and Crambe, it was at the time. And of course, Carinata and Camelina are now much better developed 15 years later. But it came down to safflower and linseed, were the two choices, and everyone I’ve spoken to about that program has thanked me or thanked the team, not just me, for choosing safflower. I guess, certainly from an Australian perspective, some of the anecdotes ,and you’ve heard a few of these even today was, ‘Oh my – thank goodness he didn’t choose linseed.’ Just safflower is so much easier to work with.

MM: Well, that’s a very good example of finding compatibility between what you want to make and the processing technology to which it’s going to be exposed. And linseed, of course, very healthy seed. And it’s got, you know, linolenic acid and all polyunsaturated fatty acids and so on. But of course, the problem with linseed is, other things. It’s got this mucilage, which is actually good for digestion, it’s actually good for your gut health, but in processing, it’s tricky.

CB: But in processing, it’s tricky.

MM: It can literally gum up the work, so, you got to choose your host and your…

CB: Quite judiciously, you know. Yeah. Yeah. So, so whilst, you know a lot of the, a lot of the focus understandably in the big crops is the big crops. But there are opportunities in these second tier or minor crops, if you can call them that. And, and where and, in effect, I guess what you described there to me, Maurice, with Miruku, it’s a crop biofactory. You’re just ,you’re not making, you know, 92% of linoleic acid, you’re making casein.

MM: Yeah, yeah. So we’re making an ingredient.

CB: You’re making an ingredient. Yeah.

MM: Yeah, that would be the play. And, you know, the choice of safflower should be helpful because, safflower is effectively a forward contracted crop. In other words, in Australia, in the US and Canada, you can find out who’s growing safflower very easily. And you can convince yourself that you released 100km away from the nearest other safflower field.

CB: You could.

MM: And that, that gives the regulators a lot more confidence that you’re not going to get an adventitious leak out there.

CB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I guess the other, and just sort of round out safflower, it agronomically fits in really well in this part of the world. You know, just as a break crop or as a rotational crop, rotational crops, the right expression, I think fantastic for, you know, bringing some more water up and breaking disease resistance and a few other things. So, it’s got a lot going for it, I think,. And when we were aiming, CBI (Crop Biofactories Initiative), our ambition I think ,was somewhere between 10 and 100,000 hectares, we thought that would be a good, a good win. The market for super high oleic is a bit bigger than that. I suspect though, if you’re doing casein  you might need a bit more than 100,000 hectares though.

MM: Depends on the expression.

CB: Yeah, yeah.

MM: But you know, obviously one of the goals would be to figure out a way of actually substituting endogenous storage proteins with something that will store that’s from … So yeah. But if it’s very successful, we’re going to need larger acreage. But on the other hand, you know 50,000, 100,000 hectares of safflower distributed. You could lose it.

CB: Yeah, you could lose it. And everything else you’ve grown.

MM: In Australia or Canada. So, I mean compared to the acreages of canola, soybeans and so on.

CB: Yeah. And I guess, just to round out this conversation around Miruku. So, what does the timing look like on Miruku? I mean, I get the sense that Core is much closer to market from a timing perspective because of the scale and some of the markets you’ve identified. But this is a GM play. I assume there’s a lot of regulatory to do. There’s a lot of breeding and genetics to do. What’s the ambition here on the timing?

MM: So yeah. So, the timing, first of all, we should be able to move some of the safflower, transgenic safflower events, into the field probably in 24 months, 36 months,

CB: Okay, two to three years.

MM: So that’s the kind of timescale I think we’re looking at to be in the field. And then once we’re in the field, you know, you can, if you counter seasonal growth, for example, you can scale that up pretty rapidly. We know where you can grow the northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere. And so, we could potentially get quite a lot of, a lot of seed. Now you mentioned regulatory. There are lots of different regulatory issues. I mean one of them is very simply bringing seed into Australia.

CB: Yeah, absolutely.

MM: You’ve got one growing season of effective quarantine for stuff that’s brought in here. And so, we’d have to look at, you know, markets in North America, in Australasia, and try and figure out how we’re going to grow these and meet the volumes that have been needed. But my guess is, we’re going to have to be growing both sides of the Pacific Ocean eventually.

CB: Yeah. No, I was actually, you led me to where I was thinking, which was, do Chile and Argentina came into this conversation? Yeah. And they obviously do, given they’re the same seasonality as Australia. Yeah.

MM: And interestingly, of course, from previous business relationships in Argentina, companies like Moolec are also committed to growing safflower. So, there are, there’s always potential collaborations in different parts of the world that would help to expand the acreage, while at the same time not being near any, major row crops.

CB: Yeah, absolutely. So, we’ve just come out of IRC, the International Rapeseed Congress. So that’ll date when we’re recording this, for those listening, which was held in Sydney this week. Obviously, it was all, you know, it was canola almost wall-to-wall. And there was a little sousant of Carinata and Camelina drifting, drifting through the room, what were your takes on, on IRC as we, as we sort of sit back and think about that from this week?

MM: Well, I think it was a very successful meeting and, you know, there was worry that we wouldn’t have enough participants because, post Covid and price of airfares and the distance people have to travel. But it was well attended and all of the major players were there, the multinationals and the breeding companies and so on, and lots and lots of universities and research institutes. New themes that are emerging now is, I do think, renewable biofuels has taken hold, and we’re beginning to get the right kind of life cycle analysis around, you know, using oilseed crops to make aviation fuel and biodiesel, to be convincing that there will be low CI values for these things, notwithstanding the fact that there’s always emissions associated with it. So, that’s definitely happening. And if I can say, one exciting thing coming out of Canada is the federal government putting quite a lot of money for an organisation called Protein Industries Canada.

CB: Yes, indeed, I remember that, yes.

MM: And they are actually pushing the envelope in a lot of protein technologies. One of them being, could you possibly rehabilitate canola protein, which is only used for animal feed right now? And by using different processing technologies, repurpose canola proteins or other oilseeds that are grown in Canada, repurpose those proteins for direct use in humans. Now, I think that is going to be an interesting shift. What Protein Industries Canada found is, there’s definitely some market pull there, but it’s going to require capital investment. And in fact, one of their portfolios, companies…

CB: There was an example, wasn’t there?

MM: …they actually ran out of cash. Because it’s not, it’s not trivial to scale this thing up.

CB: No, it’s not. And the market pull didn’t match the scaling’s constant…this timing, ratcheting problem that we always have in Ag really, about volume and markets arriving, and they never quite arrive at the same time. Yeah.

MM: Because, if you want to do a deal with ADM or somebody like that, you’ll already have to have like 10,000 tonnes of the stuff already grown because then they know, you can keep delivering.

CB: Absolutely.

MM: And so, that of course, is a cost. And, you know, the coming back to the sustainable aviation fuels and sustainable biodiesel, again, you can have production. There’s been a lot of interest in increasing crushing capacity, so that’s a good thing. But then that crushing capacity has got to feed into the refineries. And if all those things aren’t lined up, you can end up with a stranded asset for two or three years. And so, there’s really challenges there which involve quite large amounts of money and investment.

CB: I guess. What we’ve witnessed certainly with renewable diesel is a finely balanced system, you know, like a watch with springs and levers and gears and they’re all finely balanced to just keep the thing moving in perfect harmony. And now, 150 years after the establishment of what is effectively the petroleum industry, a whole bunch of people are turning up saying, ‘Actually, we’re going to convert this back over to Ag.’

MM: Yeah.

CB: I saw a great slide from, it was DSM many years ago, that they looked at the history of human energy sources from 2000 BC to 2000 AD, and there’s a little spike right at the end that shows petroleum and the rest of it’s all bio. So, what we’re doing is just reverting back to the first, sort of 3850 years of Civilization’s energy sources and going, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go back that way in order to address a number of other environmental challenges.‘ So, noting our timing today, Maurice, and slotting you in on a crazy Australian trip and a crazy trip to Canberra. I just wanted to close by, sort of, bringing together, what do you see as the emerging opportunities? Like, we got together two years ago, we talked about protein, we’ve had a good talk about the ingredient side and some of the new things that are emerging, but just touched on renewable diesel, as we, as you sort of look forward, maybe for the next couple of years and we might get you back, you know, hopefully, hopefully sooner than two years. what does it look like for the next 18 to 24 months? When we look at that technology spread, market spread and even the tightening of money and investment goals, which we touched on much earlier today.

MM: Yeah. Well, you know, I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but I think first of all, we’re going to see a bit of consolidation in the number of companies vying for money. So, there’s going to be some kind of mergers, acquisition for technology, not necessarily for the whole, you know, for real estate and so on. But just ,that’s definitely going to happen. I think we’re going to see much more focused, distinctive commitments to ideas, whether that would be, you know, whole cuts would be the obvious thing that we need to do with meat substitutes, technology around texture particularly. I’m less worried about flavour, but, and there are companies doing, you know, precision fermentation of lipids and so on. And so, then the flavour part might be covered in the course of time, and one can only hope that the regulatory climate will keep up with all the things that are happening. My take on regulators is, certainly the North American regulators and the regulators in Australia, they’re not antagonistic to the things we’re doing, but they can’t afford surprises.

CB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MM: And so, what we all need to be doing is talking to them very early in the cycle of what we are trying to achieve, to make sure that, you know, a year on, two years on, they’re completely familiar with what we are trying to achieve. So, they are then in a much better place to have done their diligence on a particular regulatory question,

CB: I think. I think that’s a really interesting point about that no surprises environment for the regulators. And I think I think that actually goes in all walks of tech transfer, to be honest, Maurice, that you want to bring people along with you. And I was thinking about this for some discussions that I’ve got coming up next week, which is around meeting people where they are, to get them to come along with you for where you want to go.

MM: Right.

CB: And in that sense, regulators also have to go on that journey with you because they are having to manage the public good. And that doesn’t always immediately align with private ambition. So, I think that’s a really good way to reflect upon, well, both an opportunity and a challenge because it is a challenge to do that. But the opportunities, if you get that right, you smooth out more and more of the bumps on the road and hopefully gets your product or products to market soon thereafter. Maurice, it has been terrific skating through discussions with you again and just covering a whole heap of issues. It’s great to actually have you in person. I’m looking forward to doing this again soon. But in the meanwhile, thanks very much, mate, and we’ll talk very soon.

MM: Always a pleasure, Cameron, and thank you very much for the invitation. It’s been great to talk through some of these issues.

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