April 30, 2023

A microbe hunting mission in Hungary: Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast

On the pod this week, we search for rare microbes and novel proteins

Steph Bailey

2 min read

Floating in the middle of Hungary's Lake Balaton, 2.4 nautical miles from shore, our senior reporter Freya Pratty joins Marlon Clark and Ineke Knot, field scientists at UK-based startup Basecamp Research. They are collecting rare microbes and novel proteins.

“Lake Balaton is this kind of Frankfurt[er]-shaped, elongated lake, the largest in Europe. But strangely it’s only around 3.1 metres deep,” Clark explained on Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast. “There’s no stratification and there’s lots of mixing within this lake, so that makes it quite unique.” 

The boat is full of kit — there’s nets for trawling for plankton, a metal claw for grabbing soil from the lake bed and a microscope for having a look at samples. Only 1% of the world’s proteins have been mapped and we don’t know what useful properties the other 99% could hold. 


Collected samples are taken to a field laboratory — set up in minutes under a tent in the back garden of their Airbnb. This is where Clark and Knot see if they’ve found new proteins that could have commercial applications. 

“We’ve got this really low infrastructure, it can basically fit into two small boxes,” said Knot. “We can basically operate completely by ourselves if need be.”

Pharma companies can make a lot of money from the application of proteins, but rarely does money go into the conservation of nature and communities where they are found. To remedy this, a new international law called the Nagoya Protocol is at the heart of Basecamp's business model. 

“The Nagoya Protocol was a framework that was signed by lots and lots of countries around the world that gives a framework for how states on one side can manage genetic resource use. And also how companies on the other side know how to operate,” said Knot.  

Sifted Newsletters

Climate Tech

Every Thursday

The green transition is underway — meet the startups driving it.

On this episode of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast we also chatted about:

Steph Bailey

Steph Bailey is head of content at Sifted. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn