Precision fermentation has been described as possibly one of the most important environmental technologies ever developed. A technology that will enable the production of food at a greater scale, with valuable nutritional content and will do so sustainably. Further, precision fermentation has been touted as a frontrunner for additional protein sources that could underpin the growth of the Australian sustainable bioeconomy.
The meaning of fermentation varies across applications. Within the alterative protein industry, fermentation carries three meanings; traditional fermentation, biomass fermentation and precision fermentation.
Put simply, precision fermentation is a sustainable brewing technique used to produce animal-free products by programming familiar micro-organisms like yeast to produce organic protein molecules. It may sound complicated but it’s simply another use of a process humans have been using for thousands of years.
Precision fermentation uses the same fundamental principles of fermentation, the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. Humanity has used fermentation to preserve foods, create alcoholic beverages, and improve the nutritional value and bioavailability of foods. The difference is while fermentation relies on naturally occurring micro-organisms, precision fermentation uses biotechnology to engineer microbes to produce substances, such as proteins, that are identical to those found in foods, such as dairy. It works by introducing genetic information that codes specific proteins into the microbial genome and programmes them to act almost like factories, producing a variety of proteins equivalent to those that naturally occur.
While it may sound like a technology of the future, it has been used for many years to produce medicines and food additives. Today this application is being expanded to develop what could become new staple foods, including innovation in dairy.
Precision fermentation is being used for three main reasons: sustainability, cost, and variety.
The most exciting benefit of precision fermentation is what it means for the environment. Recent significant advances in genetic engineering have allowed for a whole suite of food protein ingredients to be produced in a sustainable way, with less land and water resources needed. Precision fermentation is creating alternative sources of protein that can help humanity meet the nutritional needs of a growing population with fewer resources. This isn’t limited to just humans either. It can be used for agricultural feedstocks, meaning animals too can get their food supplied sustainably.
Precision fermentation has expanded the application of fermentation to previously unavailable areas to create compounds that otherwise would have been too expensive or complicated to source from nature. This is creating a possible future of low cost, highly nutritious and easily accessible food sources with benefits that are crucial in a world with a projection of 50 million mouths to feed by 2050 and a critical demand therefore for sustainable food production. It is somewhat unimaginable how the world will look in 2050 if we continue to try and put food on the table of such a large population without sustainable alternative foods offered in conjunction with the traditional foods served today.
As precision fermentation increases access to previously unavailable foods, such as vegetarians eating meat, it also enables microbes to perform new functions, and allows for an unparalleled world of choice. The innovative range of products created by precision fermentation can enhance the sustainable consumer’s experience by delivering on taste, texture, and variety. A recent example includes the use of precision fermentation to create animal-free meat with a sensory experience similar to that which comes from nature.
Eden Brew is utilising precision fermentation to create animal-free dairy for everyone to enjoy. While the science is firm, the key challenge is improving the economics of production, scaling up production, to make sure as many people as possible have access.
While significant progress has been made in recent years, there are still many opportunities for innovation due to the vast biological diversity of microbial species and virtually limitless biological synthesis capabilities.
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