Precision Fermentation for the Alternative Protein Industry


What is Precision Fermentation

 

Precision fermentation is a technology that utilizes microorganisms as cell factories to produce specific functional components. It allows microorganisms to be programmed to afford complex organic molecules, such as proteins, enzymes, fats, vitamins, natural pigments, etc. In biology, fermentations refer to specific metabolic pathways that extract energy from molecules, usually in the absence of oxygen. Fermentation occurs in three major routes:

  • Traditional fermentation: It is a relatively untargeted process. Microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast break down complex molecules in organic matter into simpler molecules.
  • Biomass fermentation: Microbial biomasses themselves can be used as useful components because they were cultured for the protein they already contain. Microorganisms can efficiently produce a high volume of protein due to their rapid growth and high self-protein content.
  • Precision fermentation: It differs from traditional fermentation and biomass fermentation because it uses and modifies microorganisms in a targeted manner. In this technique, proteins are no longer obtained from microorganisms' bodies. Instead, they are served as cell factories to produce various functional components of desired properties.

 

Other innovative potentials related to precision fermentation remain to be exploited in the alternative protein industry, such as the biodiversity of microbial species and their powerful biosynthetic capabilities.

 

What is an Alternative Protein

 

Alternatives of traditional animal-based proteins can be compositions derived from plants, insects, fungi, or tissue culture. Components of alternative proteins include plant-based proteins (e.g., soy, pea), new animal-derived proteins (e.g., insects), and cultured meat or fungal proteins produced using biotechnology.


Currently, alternative proteins surpass traditional products in terms of safety and nutritional properties. In terms of safety, hormone and antibiotic abuse are major drawbacks in traditional animal husbandry, while alternative protein products circumvent such circumstances because they do not involve hormones nor antibiotics. From a nutritional standpoint, certain microbial fermented protein products are made from strains that are cholesterol-free and contain all essential amino acids, trace elements, and vitamins.

 

Technology in the Alternative Protein Industry

Alternative proteins are an interdisciplinary field of application with a wide scope of imagination through key advances and applications of related fundamental technologies. For example, DNA synthesis and assembly technologies have enabled the rapid and efficient construction of complex genetic building blocks; Biological computer-aided design and manufacturing (bioCAD/CAM) tools have facilitated the design and construction of biological systems and bioprocesses; The advent of BioFoundry has enabled rapid and high-throughput construction, testing, and optimization of living organisms. It is likely that further iterations of these underlying technologies will follow, giving room for further potential optimizations of all aspects of alternative protein products.

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