Single cell protein (SCP) is a term applied to a wide range of unicellular and filamentous algae, fungi and bacteria which can be produced by controlled fermentation processes for use as animal feed. Compared with conventional plant and animal feed proteins these micro-organisms offer numerous advantages as protein producers:
- Their production can be based on raw carbon substrates which are available in large quantities (ie. coal, petro-chemicals, natural gas) or on agricultural or cellulosic waste products which would otherwise cause an environmental hazard.
- The majority of micro-organisms cultured are highly proteinaceous (40–80% crude protein on a dry weight basis, depending on species).
- They have a very short generation time; under optimum culture conditions bacteria can double their cell mass within 0.5–2h, yeasts within 1–3h, and algae within a 3–6h period.
- They can be cultivated in a limited land space and produced continuously with good control independently of climate.
- To a certain extent their nutritional composition can be controlled by genetic manipulation.
In addition to the use of monocultures of SCP for protein production, there is also the possibility of using mixed SCP cultures such as activated sludges (ie. mixed suspension of bacteria, algae and unicellular animals) resulting from the biological oxidation of specific waste streams such as brewery waste, human sewage, and paper processing waste.
In general these microbial products are good sources of dietary protein, with methionine generally being the first limiting essential amino acid within algae, yeast and activated sludges, and lysine within bacterial SCP (Schultz and Oslage, 1976). In contrast to conventional plant and animal feeding stuffs a significant proportion of the nitrogen contained within SCP is present in the form of high-polymer nucleic acids and their decomposition products. For example, Kihlberg (1972) reported total nucleic acid values of 5–12% for yeasts and 8–16% by weight for bacteria, as a percentage of the dry matter. The value of these non amino acid N-containing substances in the nutrition of monogastric animals, including fish and shrimp, appears to be minimal (Tacon and Jackson, 1985). In general SCP are poor sources of dietary lipid and calcium, but are an excellent source of dietary vitamins (ie. B-vitamins, inositol and choline within yeast SCP; Tacon, 1987) and are good sources of dietary phosphorus. For a review of the composition and nutritive value of SCP see Schultz and Oslage (1976).
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