Sustainable Bioproducts investors also include Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg

Sustainable Bioproducts investors also include Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg

US company Sustainable Bioproducts is eyeing the launch next year of the world's first faux meat grown from microbes discovered in a volcano.

The microbe-based foods are expected to hit the market in the form of chicken breast analogues first, although meat and dairy (liquid and solid) versions are equally possible, the company said.

The microbes, classified as extremophiles because of their ability to survive harsh environments, have a 50% protein content, making it attractive as an animal protein replacement. Their robust nature also means the microbes can be cultured using a low-pH fermentation technique that reduces contamination risks.

"This all started when we were conducting research for NASA on extreme life forms," said Thomas Jonas, the company's co-founder.

Investors in Sustainable Bioproducts, headquartered in Chicago's former meat-packing district, now include the founders of Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Their funding is channelled through the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures initiative which invests in companies working to combat climate change.

To date, Sustainable Bioproducts has raised $33 million in funding. Other backers include the venture arms of agri-business giant, Archer Daniels Midland Company, and global food and beverage company, Danone.

As well as the lower fermentation risks, Sustainable Bioproducts said its production process will use a fraction of the water, land and energy, needed for animal protein. For example, Jonas said the company's production facility will be built on 0.3 hectares. In land terms, cows producing similar protein volumes would need just over 2,830 hectares, he said.

The microbe foods will be healthier too, Jonas claimed. "We have all nine amino acids considered essential to the human diet in there, as well as fibre - animal meat has no fibre - Vitamin D, calcium and iron."

Jonas is finalising submissions to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once the microbe-food is approved as safe under the FDA's Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) regulations, he expects to launch commercially in the second half of 2020.

While Jonas says there is order interest from certain retailers, he would not name specific buyers. Nor would he be drawn on pricing, saying only that he "wanted to be competitive with animal protein".