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Podcast 23 – The Green and Healthy Omega 3 Project

Can we save dogs and the world at the same time? At Bella and Duke, we are constantly striving to innovate and improve our product. We want to share the journey on this latest project which, subject to successful testing period could be coming to our dogs in a few months or so!

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0:20 Greetings & Introduction 3:18 Douglas Martins Background 4:15 The process of growing omega 3 rich microalgae 7:34 – Why are algae really exciting? 9:50 3 reasons to be excited about algae! 10:50 How gluten and other nasties are kept out. 12:05 Preventing Algal blooms. 13:13 Rowans Recap. 15:12 Bringing the B&D pack up to speed! 17:55 When will phasing into food begin? 18:38 Does algae fed on alcohol contain alcohol?! 21:51 What can Rowan and Douglas actually tell us? 22:41 Anything more to add? 23:00 Final Recap 24:37 Goodbye!

Rowan: Douglas, welcome to Bella and Duke Podcast 23. Today we are going to talk about algae. And more importantly we’re going to talk about you saving the world and the health of our dogs in one fell swoop.

But before we leap into that, Douglas Martin, very, very, very warm regards. Thank you for coming on. And why don’t you take a few moments just to tell us about yourself?

Douglas: Well thank you very much for having me, Rowan. It’s been quite an interesting few months and we’re getting there. So from our side, essentially what we do is we take whiskey co-products, so essentially whiskeys made by heating up beer until it has no alcohol in it, and they take the alcohol bit, and then they have to get rid of the leftover beer with no alcohol, and we essentially grow Omega-3-rich algae on this beer product of sorts that has no alcohol in it.

And that’s what we’ve been doing, and we’re now scaling it up so that we can get that into pet food and into some of your Bella and Duke meals, which is really exciting for us.

Rowan: Awesome. In true academic and genius fashion. You totally skipped the question. Didn’t actually tell us anything about yourself and went and hid behind your amazing process. All of which is super valid, and I’m super excited about.

Just to qualify this, because people will be going, what? What the Giddy-my-goodness? He’s taking water and turning it into wine? Or he’s taking whiskey and he’s turning it into algae? [laughs] For those of us who haven’t had the benefit or your elucidating conversation over the last few months — your name’s Douglas Martin.

Douglas: Yes.

Rowan: Are you allowed to tell us where you work? Or would you have to kill listeners afterwards?

Douglas: Yeah. I won’t have to kill too many listeners. Just a few.

Rowan: OK.

Douglas: It’s a risk, really.

Essentially — we work in Edinburgh. So we are based out in the Edinburgh Center for carbon innovation. So we have a lot of carbon benefits to our product. So we managed to get some space in the university for that. And then we have labs out towards BioCity, which is in between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so that gives us a nice place to grow our wonderful wicks of algae.

Rowan: Wow. Wow. So you actually work… So basically you are on some carbon benefits and working in BioCity.

Douglas: Yeah.

Rowan: I feel like I’ve stepped onto the set of Mad Max. This is awesome.

Next. Keeping people up to speed. Roughly, without bamboozling us too much, what kind of background do you have?

Douglas: Right. So I have a synthetic biology and biotechnology background, which essentially means I trained in growing weird and wonderful bugs to get interesting products out of them.

Rowan: Oh. Two points on that. To quote from my hometown Maureen Lipman, you’ve got an “ology.” I actually spent time treating patients who have got weird and wonderful bugs. So I guess kind of like brothers from a different dimension.

Douglas: Yeah. You try and get rid of the weird and wonderful bugs. I try and grow them. That’s the only difference, I guess.

Rowan: It depends on the patient, to be honest. [laughs] I’m just joking. I would never do that. Right. Oh, awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

And this process. Now, I’m going to leave it to you to talk us through this. That’s because I know a lot of this is cutting edge. I know a lot of this is very, very secret. I know a lot of this is in development. So I would have couched it generically as byproducts of the brewing industry which are being recycled to grow amazing Omega-3-rich algae.

So, please, for those people who are going, wow, and you’ve just kind of splattered coffee at the wall. [laughs] I’m not funny. I don’t think I am. I’m laughing because this is just so awesome. Please tell us more about this.

Douglas: So the key thing is when you grow microalgae… So I suppose the first thing is, we grow microalgae, which isn’t quite the same as pond scum. We’ve got a very specific type of microalgae that is rich in Omega threes and is essentially with the fish, get their Omega threes from any way. They eat the smaller fish which have eaten microalgae. So it just passes up the food chain.

So we essentially cut out the middleman by using microalgae to get to Omega threes. But to grow that in industrial scale and economically you have to feed these micro something. So what we start to do is we started to look at how we could use other industries, byproducts of the distillery industry and the brewing industry and we decided to use those byproducts as food for algae. So essentially we’re able to reduce the cost of producing it and make this amazing algae available to people and to dogs eventually — or that’s the other way around. I’m sure it’s the other way around. Sure we’re doing dogs first, then people.

Rowan: It doesn’t matter. We’re a force for positive. Who’s first out in front of the queue is relevant. The fact is that we’re all going to, because I personally, when we do get round to sampling time, let me be super honest — it’s going to be a tossup — whether it’s branded for dogs or not — it’s going to up as to how much of it goes to me and how much goes to Kismet. I almost always… Was it, Marie Helvin, that said, never put anything on your face that you wouldn’t put in your mouth. Never feed something to your dog that you wouldn’t actually be happy eating yourself. That mouse Kizmet found arguably yesterday in the garden, she found that I didn’t feed it to her. So I’m exempt from that. I have a ticket out. [laughs] I stepped over it and I was like — that’s revolting. It’s the gnawing. If you’re going to eat it, eat it. Don’t gnaw it. It’s not an ice pop. Meant to be a lady. [laughs]

Douglas: I can promise you that before you get to it, I will have tried it and will be using it. So that’s my goal for the next two months is that.

Rowan: So a couple of things for people who are listening and are still catching up. Why is algae really exciting? And why is it exciting in this? For me, having looked at your product, and it was Mark who met you originally, and said — what do you think of this? — and I read through your papers and the outline. And I was like — but, but this is pure fabulous alchemy.

What I like about it is, you talked about Omega three and cutting out the middleman. Now, it’s true. It is cutting out the middleman or middle person or middle carrier if you are looking at sourcing your Omega three and more importantly, your EPA-DHA from animal sources such as salmon or sardines or mackerel, all of which are a lot more effective at converting the underlying Omega three into a usable form for humans and dogs.

We’re notoriously bad at that, and it’s very metabolically intensive. We can convert less than five percent, and we use a load of enzymes to do it. We were explaining this only the other day. I’d be interested to see your science view on this. It’s like trains leaving the station. And at one point people used to think it was like balancing a bank account — oh, I’m going to have a handful of roasted nuts which is high in saturated and corrupt Omega six, I’m going to balance it with obviously Omega three — it doesn’t quite work like that does it? Because we use up enzymes to convert one into the form, and when that train leaves the station, it’s kind of done.

Douglas: I honestly do not know much about the enzymes that convert Omega sixes to Omega threes. But the logic is sound from the enzymatic point of view, which is…

Rowan: Thank you. And we all know about trains leaving stations. So that’s as far as we need to go on that. Done. Next.

So, why I’m excited about this and speaking to you, Douglas, is really three main things, and we can maybe dive into each one of them.

One is, going as close to the source means it’s less contaminated by heavy metals, mercury, cadmium, and all those other things that are lurking around, unfortunately, and are toxic seas.

Two, the algae seems to have something called [10:19][ask the sound thing] which in itself is mega antioxidant. Sometimes like, somebody quoted like 900 times more than vitamin C? — but I don’t know about that.

And three is because you are doing it in an industrial environment, you can ensure the purity and you’re also saving our waterways from all these byproducts. So you’re basically consuming all of these nasties and turning them into something good.

How is it all of these gluten and all these other things don’t come into the product?

Douglas: Well, from our side, it’s about control and as you mentioned, at the back of that is we have full control over the process, which means that we know what comes into the product, we know what goes out of the product. There’s a lot of stability, there’s a lot of good things that come from being able to control that process. You’re not just going out and harvesting algae from the sea where you don’t know what it’s been growing on. You don’t know what’s happened to it. It’s a fully contained system that we use, so there’s not even any air or anything like that that hasn’t been filtered that gets into our system. So there’s a lot of precision to it from our side, which is really, really useful in terms of keeping those toxins and things out of that.

The pigments that you mentioned are amazing pigments and we’re looking at how we can get more of those into some of our products at the back end. It’s certainly something we would like to see come more to the forefront of our products as well. So it’s got an Omega three rich antioxidant kind of product that will go into feeds, which is pretty cool.

And then from my side, the idea of being able to clean up water while doing it is a big part of it. It was the idea of — if you discharged this nutrient into the seas, you end up with these really, really bad algae blooms that caused havoc in nature. So if you can take those and you can grow something that you really want in a controlled manner on these byproducts, you essentially cause algal blooms without causing them in the ocean. So you’ve got a very specific way of doing it. We reduce the nutrient content of that water by about 95 percent now. Something that we’re looking to actually get the water to recirculate back into the processes. So we actually start to save water as well, which will be really, really exciting.

So there’s a lot a lot going on, but we’re taking it one step at a time to get the products out.

Rowan: I am so excited about this. This is the first podcast on which I’ve actually got proper face ache.

Douglas: [laughs] I aim for face ache. That’s my goal.

Rowan: [laughs] Oh my goodness. So to recap, basically we’re getting pure Omega three. We’re getting richer sources of Omega three. You are preventing algae blooms in the ocean, preventing pollution in the waterways and the ocean, and basically a longer term.

I guess we’re creating or you’re creating, you and your team are creating a sustainable source of Omega three in a world which is a suffering from depleted resources and increasing toxicity in the ocean. I mean this is just awesome.

Douglas: That’s the plan. Feeding more people better and feeling more pets better and making sure that everyone is not abusing the oceans and the world as much as we possibly can.

Rowan: Oh, let’s just take a moment. I’ve kind of run out of words. [laughs]

Douglas: It’s a small ambition really. That’s the trick.

Rowan: It’s seismic.

Douglas: It’s going to take us some time to get there to get to absolute mammoth scale, but it’s certainly on the cards. We’re looking to be able to get better source of this stuff going forward. Much more of it.

Rowan: And I guess for people listening to this, the exciting part is we’re going to be your first official customer.

Douglas: Yes. That is super exciting from both — well, I hope from your side — but certainly, from our side, we’re really, really excited to get our product out there and get it into products that really care about what they put into their food.

Rowan: Oh my goodness me. Yeah. And just to kind of bring people up to speed. We’ve been sitting on this, and I’ve been like a child trying to contain Christmas glee. Think the John Lewis advert on steroids, I’m so gleeful. [laughs] And the only reason it’s not come out sooner is you guys are just absolutely exemplary in testing, retesting, monitoring, and you’ve wanted a certain window of absolute pure consistency before you release it to us to start improving dog’s health with.

Douglas: That’s exactly it. I mean the biggest thing holding us back is just making sure that we have complete control of that process so that we know what we’re giving you every time, and I mean, it started off as very much an R&D project, so making sure that we do have it under control is a very important thing, and we won’t give it to you until we are certain that that’s what it is, all nailed down.

Rowan: I am looking forward to this being one of my number one go to supplements for both me and for Kizmet, the wonder dog.

D; I’m really excited for that to happen. I’m excited for it to be a part of my food too.

Rowan: Absolutely. In fact, I think I’ve alluded to this. I’ve got a friend in LA who set up this natural beauty product company after a particularly horrific car accident he was involved in. He was a model — blah, blah, blah — really got hurt really badly, like major reconstructive surgery, set up this beauty product company because the things he was being recommended by doctors were full of chemicals. I won’t say who it is right now, in fact, we’ll get him on at some point, but I mentioned to him in passing about this and he was blown away. He was absolutely blown away. I mean, the British version is — oh, that’s really interesting. I must speak with them.

His version was a lot more enthusiastic. [laughs]

Douglas: I’m sure we’ll get there. As you said, the one thing for us is to make sure that we remain focused at this stage and that we do get that quality down the right way before we start to move into other interesting avenues. And we’re in Bella and Duke first, which is good

Rowan: That was well fielded. That was a deliberate trap. You passed it.

So Douglas, I’m totally putting you on the spot. When do we think we’re going to be able to start phasing it in?

Douglas: We’re hoping for about three months time. So that’s the goal at this stage.

Rowan: OK. A date stamp now.

Douglas: Date stamp. No. No pressure.

Rowan: No, no…

Douglas: But again…

Rowan: We’re all friendlies here.

Douglas: [laughs] As we said, it will be as soon as possible with the caveat of we need to make sure that it’s safe and is exactly what we need to be giving you, so we’ve got that quality control down.

That’s the only thing holding us back, but we’re certainly aiming for three months from now.

Rowan: And to just let people know, is that regardless of what the algae is fed on, because I’m quite infamous for mentioning — you’re not what you eat, you are what you eat ate. Particularly when you look at, for instance, grassfed cattle have a totally different Omega three profile — and very few people realize this. I think some people have confused the whole grass-fed concept with — is it organic or raised outdoors? The two, and three separate things.

When we talk about grass-fed is literally what are these things eating? Because it affects how the fat profile is in their body and the CLA, the conjugated linolenic acid. All of these things which are very, very beneficial to us. As opposed to the grains, which obviously created a far fattier cattle, but it’s an inflammatory Omega six fat.

So there is a slight difference, isn’t there, here in this algae model? Is that, even though they’re fed on byproducts of the brewing industry, these are nonalcoholic algae, would take and drive or operate heavy machinery?

Douglas: No, we won’t let them operate any heavy machinery. They’d be fine, but just a little small to operate the pedals, unfortunately.

Rowan: Yeah. Absolutely. Like in Despicable Me, whatever those are called, the Minions. They’re small algae with some goggles.

Douglas: [inaudible]

Rowan: [laughs] Hey, you know, you got to think big.

But what these algae are fed on actually has very beneficial representations in the way it’s expressed, doesn’t it? And I don’t know how much you can say on this. But…

Douglas: Well, what I can say is that the way we’ve… Well, we’ve essentially spent maybe a year’s worth of R&D going through high throughput systems. So in a year, we did about five years worth of R&D on our product, which was a lot down to my team and some of the really exciting bits of kit that they got. But it meant it meant that we got to try all sorts of different ways of growing our algae and make sure that we got the best way of doing it. So we don’t just give them the co-product and walk away. We’ve got a lot of different techniques of getting them to produce more better Omega threes from that, which is really the key bit behind it. I can’t say much about how we do it, but I can tell you that that’s what we do.

Rowan: I’m, I’m loving life. I wish to not be met by a man with a silencer at the door tonight. Well, if he finds where I live, I mean, really he deserves it. I get lost occasionally. I miss my turning occasionally.

We are allowed to tell people that these, the obviously, the totally devoid of grain products, we received them. They’re totally devoid of any gluten or inflammatory grain proteins. And are we allowed to mention that these are relatively high inastaxanthin? This super antioxidant we were talking about?

Douglas: They are relatively high in that. Yeah. So that’s the other side that we’re still looking at exactly how high. But they certainly are full of the stuff. You can see that they’re little orangey red bugs.

Rowan: Oh my goodness.

Douglas. I guess maybe unless you’ve got anything you are allowed to tell us more. We can tie it up there with a view to getting you back on in a few weeks for a progress update.

Douglas: Well that sounds good. Well, from my side, I don’t think there’s much more I can say. I’m sure we’ll start to get some of the interesting product stuff coming out.

Rowan: OK. So to recap. You are recycling the byproducts of the brewing industry, feeding it to algae, creating super Omega three rich algae, high in astaxanthin, which is a really, really cool antioxidant with loads of benefits. You’re saving the waterways whilst you do it, stopping the oceans from being polluted. You’re working somewhere called BioCity. You’ve got an “ology.” And we’re about to put it into Bella and Duke food in the next twelve weeks.

Douglas: That’s a pretty good summary. I like the summary.

Rowan: Gavel down. We’re done. I’m actually going to get a gavel. [laughs] That’s going to be my thing. I remember seeing, I think it was Arnold Schwarzenegger interviewed by Tim Ferriss on his podcast and he looked at him, Tim Ferriss asked him a really trippy question and he looked at him, gave him a deadpan answer — they went, “gavel down, case dismissed. Next.”

Douglas: [laughs]

Rowan: I think that’s going to be my thing. I’m going to get a little gavel. [laughs]

Awesome. Douglas, thank you for being a superstar. Thanks for wanting to save our planet. And for being on Bella and Duke.

Douglas: Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to getting back on when we’ve got more and more stuff coming through.

Rowan: Oh yeah.

Douglas: Super exciting.

Rowan: Let’s make this a regular date.

Douglas: Sounds good.

Rowan: Awesome. Thank you so much and I look forward to… Well, we’re all really excited to be working with you guys, and look forward to asking you more, learning more and sharing more, very shortly.

Douglas: Looking forward to it. It’ll be really good. Thanks, Rowan.

Rowan: Awesome. Thank you.

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