Precision fermentation stirs up solutions for food supply gapsCari Cooney | August 23, 2022
The pandemic brought about many changes across the globe. The disruption in the supply chain has been a major issue. From computer chips to lumber, prices have hit record highs as products remain at record lows. A huge concern is the manufacturing and distribution of food. Many nations are in a food security crisis because of supply chain logistics and are now faced with further stressors like weather and conflict alongside the damage done by the pandemic’s induced economic turmoil.
Humans have a huge reliance on plants and animals for food. The 2020 pandemic showed how easily food production and distribution can be turned upside down on a global scale. Food became scarce, expensive and left many looking for answers and alternatives.
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Scientists wanted to find solutions to ease the supply chain gaps. Sustainable food sources without being as heavily reliant on old methods led to the development of cellular agriculture. This was not an idea that came from the events of 2020, but it was expanded upon because of them. Cellular agriculture has been around for many years. The idea of creating meat from protein fibers was investigated in the 1950s by Willem van Eelen. In 1999, he held the first patent for cultured meat.
Cultured meat and lab created dairy and eggs were answers from bioengineers that made sense to investigate. One innovative part of the cellular agriculture movement is precision fermentation. By brewing food inside fermentation containers, a variety of food substances, including necessary proteins can be created.
A new level of fermentation
Precision fermentation, as opposed to typical microbial fermentation where microorganisms transform materials into beer, yogurt and other common products, involves transforming microbes into mini factories that produce specific enzymes or proteins. Precision fermentation requires raw resources ranging from sugars derived from waste biomass to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which could enable a shift to a circular, low-waste bioeconomy.
Many companies are now heading to market with precision fermentation. Impossible Burger, which integrates ingredients made from yeast, as well as ClearEgg or EggWhite, with proteins formed from microorganisms by the EVERY Company, are already on store shelves in the United States and have been popular among the masses. New startups are forming globally to join the movement in bioengineered food sources.
Solving the food security crisis
The biggest challenge these companies face is the ability to have the technology and the size to back it. The ability to create proteins with precision fermentation is one matter, but the ability to make enough to have it priced competitively and affordably alongside traditional sources is another. However, the need for sustainable food sources has become urgent. Cellular agriculture, fermentation included, will ultimately be part of the solution.