An interview with iwi’s Director of Agronomy, Jakob Nalley, PhD
Q: Hey, Jake! Thanks for taking us through the ABCs of algae. First things first: what is agronomy, for those who may not know?
Jake: “Agronomy is the field of using science and technology to turn plants into food (for humans), feed (for animals), and fuel. Agronomists are “crop doctors!” Our core responsibility is to promote the health and well-being of a crop. For algae, this means managing water and harvesting for optimal growth — and protection from predators and competitors.”
Q: With algae being the most direct source of Omega-3 (cutting out the middle fish), can you explain why fish oil has dominated the market until now?
Jake: “It all comes down to access. Fish are the ultimate concentrators of Omega-3. They accumulate it by consuming organisms that have concentrated Omega-3 from algae. Fish have been abundant, and removing Omega-3 content from them was easier. But, there are two main benefits to algae-based Omegas: our iwi oil is not only preserving our ocean habitat from overfishing, but also providing a more potent and healthy Omega-3 straight from algae.
One of the largest challenges to cutting out the middle fish and going right to algae has always been growing enough algae. But this is one of the largest successes of iwi! We not only grow tons of algae annually at an industrial scale, we also have developed a process to remove the oil in a way that produces a highly absorbable and potent Omega-3.”
Q: What has contributed to that success?
Jake: “Our number one “fertilizer” is sunlight, and that single ingredient is the key to iwi. Our algae grow outside in open ponds where the algae collect sunlight and turn that into energy (photosynthesis!). Chloroplasts grab the sunlight, and it is within these chloroplasts that our potent Omega-3, EPA, is produced. There are other algae omegas on the market, but the algae are grown in closed metal vats where they are fed sugar rather than sunlight. The oil from these algae are packaged very differently than the iwi oil, and it is that packaging that makes iwi oil more absorbable and potent.”
Q: What makes iwi products so nutrient-dense?
Jake: “Our algae is a “superfood” that naturally produces two extremely nutritious products: a highly absorbable form of Omega-3 (EPA) and a complete protein that is packed with all the essential amino acids! Our protein also has more total amino acids and branched chain amino acids compared to egg and whey protein. All of this is to say that our algae-based protein is unlike anything currently on the market!”
Q: Lastly, what does the future of algae-based supplementation look like?
Jake: “Algae is already a part of our daily life, and we didn’t even notice it. From thickening agents in toothpaste to micronutrient enrichment in smoothies, algae is everywhere. But in the next five years, algae products are going to truly make a contribution to our overall food system. We see our iwi protein product making a large impact on the current protein market as we can offer a complete, nutritious and extremely concentrated protein that can be used as a meal replacement shake or added to spaghetti sauce to offer a protein dense meal without meat.
Bigger picture, we are seeing companies enrich their aqua- and animal feeds with algae to offer a natural form of Omega-3s. Companies are working with unwanted algae blooms to create foams and plastics. And we cannot forget the seaweed industry that is continuing to grow and produce tons of different edible seaweeds for various food ingredients and additives.”
We hope you enjoyed the interview and learned something new about algae. Got questions for Jake? Send them here at firstname.lastname@example.org, and keep the conversation going.