Meet Sergio Velasco Ayuso, R&D Lab Manager at Kernel Mycofoods

Meet Sergio Velasco Ayuso, R&D Lab Manager at Kernel Mycofoods

March 29, 2021
Blog
Sergio, an avid nature lover, knew from his early teenage years that he wanted to become a biologist.

Sergio was born and raised in Madrid, he completed his degree in  Biology at the Autonomous University of Madrid, and furthered  his knowledge  with a masters in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, and a PhD in Biological Sciences. His thesis focused on biological and chemical groundwater quality. 

Sergio has written numerous research publications, and has held 3 postdoctoral positions at the University of Granada (Spain), Arizona State University (US) and, before Kernel, at the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina). 

Tell us about your work.

I am a biologist with a background in ecology, mainly in microbial ecology. I have studied several microbial communities in freshwaters, marine waters and terrestrial systems, but never worked directly with fungi, so this position as R&D Lab Manager at Kernel is both new and challenging for me. But after working in Kernel for almost a year, I have broadened my knowledge of the microbial world by including fungi.

When did you realize you wanted to become a biologist? 

Well, this is a very simple question for me to answer. My parents began to take me with them  (I must have been five years old more or less), during their hikes and travels around Spain. I suppose, because of course I do not remember, that I fell in love with the natural sciences by that time. And since I was 12 years old, I started to say that I wanted to study biology and, fortunately, the dream came true with their endless support.

Outside of the lab, what do you enjoy doing the most? 

Among my hobbies, I like reading at home, traveling and outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking and canoeing. Good meals with friends and family, where both beer and conversation flow make me very happy. 

Sergio drinking the traditional Argentinian "Mate" on a hike at Martial Mountains, near Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

How was the transition from academia to the private sector for you? 

It's been more or less easy thanks to all people working at Kernel, especially my lab mates. But, let's not fool ourselves, the transition is being a great adventure because I need to face totally new problems to solve on a daily basis. But, what is life if not a continuous adventure?

And how is the experience of working in a startup so far?

The experience is, so far, fantastic. Kernel really values my trajectory as a whole, and takes onboard my ideas about how to improve the way of producing new, protein-rich food products as an alternative to traditional proteins.

You have written several research publications. What are they about? 

Most of my publications have a common theme: microorganisms. They are the unseen majority of the living world on our planet, and my intention during my academic career has been to partly understand how human activities alter their abundance, structure and function in nature.

What are you most proud of, career-wise?

I have to say that everything that I have done has been exclusively based on my personal effort and work, not on connections or personal favours. I am very proud of it.

What would you say is your long-term career dream? 

If I can give back to society just a little bit of what the society invested all along during my formation, I would be really happy and fulfilled.

What excites you the most about working at Kernel? What motivated you to join the team?

Well, as I mentioned during the recruiting process before joining the company, being part of a team that can partially solve the issue of hunger, which has a high incidence in underdeveloped countries, by producing a nutritive, affordable and protein-rich product motivated me to start working at Kernel.

Using all my experience to work shoulder to shoulder with my lab mates to get such an important goal, allows me to be  socially responsible and  is a fantastic way to give back to the society everything invested during my formation as a scientist.

Sergio at Kernel Mycofoods lab in Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

Do you think the global COVID-19 pandemic is influencing (positively/ negatively) the speed of innovation in Biotech and Foodtech industries?

Hard to tell one way or the other. As for the Lab, I see that it may be a little harder, as ideas don't flow at the same speed when you work remotely at your place compared with the permanent feedback that you receive, and give, when working face to face in an office or lab.

How would you describe Kernel Mycofood to someone who has never tried it before? 

I would say it is a tasty, nutritive and healthy meat-substitute made up with small mushrooms. We can summarize the key attributes of Kernel using three words: healthy, nutritive and sustainable.

Do you think Kernel has the potential to fight hunger and malnutrition?

Kernel, as a company, does not have the definitive solution to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, but definitely can help. By applying state-of-the-art scientific knowledge and technology to food production, Kernel will contribute to achieve one of the most important SDGs of the United Nations: zero hunger.

How do you see the competitive landscape in the food tech industry at a global scale? 

I do not have a long experience working in the food tech industry, but I have always thought that collaboration, instead of competition, brings more results and ideas to be tested when a common goal, to fight hunger in this case, needs to be reached.

How is the state of the Biotech ecosystem in Latin America (for our international followers) to know?

The Biotech ecosystem in Latin America is still at its infancy but adequately growing, evolving and adapting to regional idiosincrasias but without renouncing to widening its borders to offer global solutions far beyond the region.

Do you see inefficiencies in the global food production system? How would you solve them?

Of course I see some deficiencies in the production of food. I understand that feeding a continuously  growing global population is a huge challenge.e should look for processes that maximize the production of high-quality food products while minimizing the use of natural resources and the generation of waste.

What advice do you have for aspiring biologists within the foodtech/biotech industry? 

I would say that foodtech and biotech are ideal industries for biologists looking to help fight malnutrition through the production of high quality food products. Their knowledge and ideas will be welcome and their work will have a social angle that many people find fulfilling, be that for underdeveloped or mature markets.

We hope that Sergio's interview serves as an insight on how exciting it is to work in a field where we have the power to create a better future.