Fermented food: From cheese to future proteins
Precision fermentation is the process of using genetically engineered microorganisms to produce specific molecules, such as milk. You may think it will take years, if not decades, until food products made from this technology can be found in your local grocery store. The truth is, you may have been eating food produced by precision fermentation for years, in the form of cheese.
The story of cheese
The first step in making cheese from milk is coagulation, which separates the solids from the liquids. Rennet, an important enzyme responsible for curdling milk, is added in this step. Traditionally, rennet was a byproduct taken from the fourth stomach of young calves. When the rising demand for cheese caused a serious supply shortage of rennet, scientists found a way to produce rennet through precision fermentation. The gene from the calf was inserted into a strain of bacteria, which was then cultured in a fermenter. In the end, rennet protein was obtained through isolation and purification.
Today, 90 percent of cheese in the US market is made with rennet produced through precision fermentation.
In 1990, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first genetically engineered product for human consumption. This approval marked the beginning of precision fermentation in the food industry. Now, 90 percent of cheese in the US market is made with rennet produced through precision fermentation.
The food of the future
The same technology used to produce rennet is now being applied to make other proteins. In 2020, the company Perfect Day received approval from the FDA for the world’s first milk protein produced through precision fermentation, and launched the first ice cream made from cow-free milk. Valued at US$1.5 billion, Perfect Day is now a unicorn and preparing an IPO for 2022.
The livestock industry uses one-third of all habitable land and ten percent of global water resources. It is also responsible for 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the huge environmental impact, many organizations and start-ups are working to develop more sustainable ways to produce protein. Alternative protein, including proteins produced through precision fermentation, is considered the food of the future and is projected to account for 11 percent of the protein market in 2035.
Alternative protein, including proteins produced through precision fermentation, is considered the food of the future and is projected to account for 11 percent of the protein market in 2035.
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