A company working on creating food for prawns from algae has been awarded five million rubles ($82,000) by the Skolkovo Foundation, making it the first startup working in agriculture to receive a mini-grant from the foundation.

The company, Solixant, plans to use the funding to produce a prototype of its food within a year, and says that its product could wean Russia off its dependence on imported prawns.

Currently, most prawns on sale in Russia are imported from abroad. Photo: Pixabay.

“Under our Skolkovo project, we are developing food for prawn larvae (known as starter food) made up of certain algae that contain a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, protein and natural antibiotics,” said Denis Kuzmin, head of Solixant.

“We’re offering a product that will accelerate the larvae’s growth and reduce the mortality rate. So far, there is not a single producer of starter feed, and this is one of the reasons that virtually all the prawns sold in Russia are imported,” he said.

Solixant specialises in analysing the properties of algae, and is also carrying out research to save Lake Baikal from an imbalance in its ecosystem that has seen algal blooms spreading across the world’s oldest and deepest lake.  

For many aquatic organisms such as prawns, the quality of the food they eat at the early stage of their development – as larvae – is very important.

“One of the key factors determining the quality of food is the size of the particles: the larvae’s feeding apparatus can only swallow very small particles,” Kuzmin told Sk.ru. “This is partly why algae are a natural food for prawn larvae,” he said.

Kuzmin said his company plans to use the grant to have a prototype ready in a year’s time, and then to move on to the next stage of upscaling their operations,

Once the technology has been developed for producing food for prawns, it can be used to make food for oysters, valuable fish breeds and other species, he explained.

“The financing from Skolkovo will enable us to study quite a large collection of strains [of algae], to identify the best accumulators of particularly valuable molecules, to test different food recipes and compare them with the most popular ones on the market. The grant will allow us to complete the research and development stage, and that is very important,” said Kuzmin.

“We also expect to obtain two patents for valuable biotechnical strains with the help of the grant, and to present our work at one of the leading aquaculture feed exhibitions in Hamburg,” he added.  

Solixant became a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation in March, one of the first companies to join the newly formed agriculture division within the biomed cluster.

“The guys have done a lot of work in collecting a really impressive collection of strains and honing their skills in this field,” said Roman Kulikov, head of biotech in agriculture and industry within Skolkovo’s biomed cluster.

Solixant’s partners in the project are the Tekhnopark science and innovation centre of the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry in Moscow, the company Evrogen, which has a highly accurate method for identifying key elements within algae, and the Institute of Oceanography in Vietnam, which is testing the food on the whiteleg shrimp.