Today, we stand on the cusp of the next great transformation in our food production.
This is the second domestication of plants and animals. The first domestication allowed us to master macro-organisms. The second will allow us to harness micro-organisms...
What is Precision Fermentation and why is it important?
Precision Fermentation is a term coined by RethinkX in our 2019 Food & Agriculture Report. Precision Fermentation is a process that allows us to program micro-organisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule. Precision Fermentation has the potential to disrupt the food & agriculture industry entirely.
Precision Fermentation, and other transformative technologies emerging within our food & agriculture sectors have the capacity to bring about extraordinary change to our current system, and how we produce and consume our food.
For tens of thousands of years since the first domestication, our species has been able to thrive and survive by extracting the energy we need for one of our most basic human needs, through the ceaseless exploitation of plants, animals and planet. For the first time in our history, it will no longer be necessary to rely on macro-organisms as a source of food.
Brilliant discoveries in biology, science and information have resulted in the emergence of remarkable technologies, shifting our modes of food production from a model of extraction, where we grow plants and animals to break them down into the things we need, to a model of creation, where foods are built up from precisely-designed molecules and cells.
Precision Fermentation is a process that allows us to produce proteins, carbohydrates, fats and many other molecules found in dairy, meat, eggs, fish and other food products, and even non-food products like fabric dyes and leather through harnessing and innovating on one of the most basic culinary methods we have been perfecting for over 10,000 years. Fermentation.
Through the process of precision fermentation, genetically engineered micro-organisms (usually yeast, algae or bacteria) are programmed to produce all kinds of animal and plant molecules, and any protein, enzyme or fat imaginable, while only requiring a single plant or animal cell. The DNA of a single soy plant or chicken will be enough to create an unlimited quantity of soy or chicken protein.
This transformational technology can create the same goods we know and love, without the harm. The 70% of agricultural land and water currently used for animals will be replaced with localized precision fermentation and cellular agriculture operations, and the nutritious food created from Precision Fermentation will not just be an order-of-magnitude cheaper, but superior in every possible way – the taste, aroma, texture, mouthfeel, nutrition, and variety of food itself, as well as the predictability of quality, price, and supply, as well as impact on health, animal welfare, and the environment will be improved.
With Precision Fermentation you genetically modify yeast so that it can produce the ingredient that you want. This technology has existed for 40 years. Precision Fermentation ice cream, cheese and chocolates are already on the market. Precision Fermentation farms will become the new food farms. Precision Fermentation products and technology are here. This disruption is happening now.
What will our food systems look like in the future?
Precision Fermentation is just the beginning. Technology disruptions and advances like Precision Fermentation are now being combined with an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software.
'Food-as-Software’ is where individual molecules engineered by scientists are uploaded to databases. These databases then become molecular cookbooks that food engineers anywhere in the world can use to design products in the same way that software developers design apps.
We’ll soon be able to download proteins designed all over the world, and produce them locally like we do Apps.
These technology disruptions will have cascading ripple effects across all sectors of our society, making it easier to stabilize, localize and democratize food production, minimize harm to our environment, and maximize delicious, nutritious and superabundant food for all. In the next 10 years, we can move from a centralized system dependent on scarce, extractive resources to a localized, resilient system based on abundant, creative production.
The choices decision makers take in the near future with regards to applying and scaling this technology will have a lasting impact – those regarding intellectual property (IP) rights and approval processes for these modern food products, for example, will be critical.