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Chicago company using fungi from Yellowstone to grow vegan protein products

Chicago company using fungi from Yellowstone to grow vegan protein products
Chicago company using fungi from Yellowstone to grow vegan protein products 02:38

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Yellowstone National Park is slowly re-opening after damaging floods last week, and a Chicago company is closely monitoring the situation from 1,300 miles away.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory shares the key role the park played in the growing business.

On the site of an old hog processing facility at Pershing Road and Halsted Street, you'll find production of new kind of protein called Fy.

It might not look very appetizing while its being grown, but breakfast patties made of Fy are starting to grow in popularity especially in the vegan world.

"We don't need pesticide. We don't need insecticide. We don't need hormone," said Thomas Jonas, CEO and co-founder of Nature's Fynd, the company that developed Fy.

It isn't animal-based or plant-based. Fy is from fungi. It's made from microbes.

"If you ever had a beer in your life, if you ever had a piece of cheese in your life, then you probably have – you actually have – eaten something that is made with microbes," explained Jonas.

CBS 2 got a tour of the Fy-making process at the company's plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The microbe gets loaded with nutrients and multiplies in a fermentation room. Then it grows into a solid protein. About four days after the start, a robot helps "harvest" the Fy. It is then processed and packaged into two kinds of breakfast patties and two types of dairy-free cream cheese.

Nature's Fynd developed its Fy-growing technology in Chicago, but the edible fungi originally comes from acidic springs in Yellowstone National Park. It was discovered as part of a NASA-funded research mission about life in extreme environments.

"Considering the history that we have with the park, and the partnership that we have today with the park, it's even more heartbreaking," said Jonas, talking about the devastating flooding the hit Yellowstone earlier this month.

Roads washed away, forcing park closures, which then prevented visitors from trying Nature's Fynd products that were available at Yellowstone for the first time this season.

Back in Chicago, growing the protein is going so well that a second factory is in the works, and food scientists are already testing out what's next on the menu.

CBS 2 asked if the national parks system and/or the federal government supports the work Nature's Fynd is doing, given that the microbe came from Yellowstone and the company is now monetizing it.

"It was very important for us to give back to the park. We think the park mission is something that was really meaningful and important for all of us," said Jonas. "So, we approached the park and actually put in place a benefits-sharing program. And we're very proud of that. It's something that matters to us."

The company also recently donated to flooding relief efforts, honoring the park's history while serving up the future.

In a few weeks, Nature's Fynd technology is scheduled to go into space. The mission: see if Fy can be grown on the International Space Station to provide food to astronauts.


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