Precision fermentation poised to unlock potential of microorganisms for food
24 Jan 2023 --- Food biomanufacturing is emerging as a promising proposal for companies looking to create a sustainable and resilient food system. However, challenges remain in the precision fermentation industry hindering companies from scaling breakthrough technologies. Venture capital firm Blue Horizon and Olon Biotech have joined forces to call for a “bioeconomy” designed to reshape the industry and develop a range of alternative proteins to feed the world’s ballooning population.
“Precision fermentation will shape food in the next decade through the production of functional, healthy, natural ingredients – the technology offers practically endless possibilities for the production of specific proteins or other molecules,” Friederike Grosse-Holz, director at Blue Horizon tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“The innovative aspect of precision fermentation is the sheer diversity of possible products – given recent advances in our understanding of microorganisms, many ingredients and materials can now be produced via precision fermentation that could never have been produced via more traditional methods.”
“Today’s precision fermentation processes often still “pay” for this diversity with relatively low yields and high production costs, although this will likely improve over time as fermentation processes are optimized and scaled to industrial levels.”
Bringing fermentation processes to scale has many variables that have to be considered, most of them relating to production costs across the production line, but also come at the time to select the right microbial strain.
The two companies have released a report on the opportunity to establish a bioeconomy based on microorganisms that work for humans in fermentation processes and how to unlock the potential in scaling-up biomanufacturing.
“The challenge that precision fermentation faces is that every microbial strain is different and thus needs to undergo its own scale-up journey. With increasing experience across the bioeconomy, those scale-up journeys will likely become shorter and more standardized,” explains Grosse-Holz.
“Scalability can be (and in fact has been) achieved for different microbial strains, for instance for production of citric acid or enzymes,” she notes.
Grosse-Holz also flags that “wild” strains – microorganisms that produce material of interest but have not been scaled industrially – still hold a great potential to explore.
However, they pose risk as limitations of the strains have to be found early to avoid unforeseen additional costs when scaling production of the specific strain.
Moreover, Blue Horizon’s shares how companies can increase the consistency and reproducibility of their fermentation processes.
“Simplifying the fermentation process from the early development onwards, such that sources of error or variation are eliminated where possible; Working with qualified suppliers to ensure that culture media ingredients (the “food” for the microorganisms) are of consistent quality and composition; developing detailed “standard operating procedures” that are well documented, such that different employees can perform the process to the same standard.”
Precision fermentation possibilities
Precision fermentation, while being more sustainable than conventional food-producing methods, allows for the creation of a wide array of ingredients.
“Among these are the proteins we know and love, such as casein that makes molten cheese stretchy and gooey and awesome; precision fermentation allows us to produce casein exactly as it is found in cow’s milk, but without needing industrial animal agriculture,” flags Grosse-Holz.
The search for environmental sustainability, animal welfare and health benefits are driving more companies to bet on the technology.
FrieslandCampina Ingredients is harnessing Triplebar Bio’s specialized biotechnology capabilities to develop and scale up the production of cell-based proteins via precision fermentation.
Meanwhile, US-based The Live Green Company is building a precision fermentation division set to replace animal, synthetic and ultra-processed ingredients with plant-based alternatives.
“Among the proteins that can be made with precision fermentation are also many new molecules – offering totally new taste, color and texture experiences. Thus, precision fermentation will shape food over the next decade by making products we all know and love in more sustainable ways, and by offering completely new options for those who are curious to try,” Grosse-Holz concludes.
By Marc Cervera
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