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Future of Precision Fermentation
Our aim is to start a global conversation on the impacts of Precision Fermentation and focus decision-makers’ attention on the scale, speed, and impact of the modern food disruption initiated by emerging technologies.
What will be the impacts of global Precision Fermentation disruption?
There will be disruptions to all kinds of sectors, each overlapping, reinforcing, and accelerating one another. The disruption will play out in a number of ways and will not simply disrupt products one-for-one.
There will be wide scale economic benefits as a result of Precision Fermentation disruption; the cost of food will reduce as a result of an increase in disposable incomes, and from the wealth, jobs, and taxes that come from leading the way in modern food technologies.
Whilst the current industrial livestock model of production experiences instability in it’s markets due to varying seasons, weather patterns, drought, disease and other natural, economic and political factors, the Precision Fermentation model of production will be sheltered from social, political, environmental, volume and price fluctuations. Geography will no longer be a significant factor in a country or area’s ability to produce food using Precision Fermentation technology. We will move from a centralized system of food production, dependent on scarce resources, to a distributed system based on superabundant resources.
Less Land Use
Today, animal agriculture consumes 3.3 billion hectares of land in the form of pasture and feed cropland. The disruption of food & agriculture caused by disruptive technologies will free up to 80% of agricultural land – an area the size of the United States, China, and Australia combined. We call this ‘The Great Land Liberation’. This staggering transformation will present an entirely unprecedented opportunity for conservation, re-wilding, and reforestation.
The environmental benefits of this new system will be profound. Even without active reforestation (the active planting of trees to regenerate and sequester carbon) the passive reforestation (the natural recovery of plants and trees as a result of ‘The Great Land Liberation’) of the 2.7 billion hectares of land freed up from animal agriculture by the food disruption will capture and store a quantity of carbon equivalent to up to 20% of today’s global emissions.
Through Precision Fermentation, scientists are able to remove unhealthy by-products, and enhance the beneficial qualities of a product. Individualized nutrition, where specific proteins, fibers, and vitamins are developed on-demand to match our specific genetic makeup and lifestyles will become the norm. The nutritional benefits of Precision Fermentation could have a huge impact on our health, through the reduction of foodborne illness and the reduction of conditions such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes that are estimated to cost the U.S. $1.7 trillion every year.
Job Losses & Gains
There will be wide-scale changes to employment within industries disrupted by emerging technologies. We estimate the economic loss of Precision Fermentation disruption to the current production system will total more than $100bn. At the same time, there will be huge opportunities for the producers of modern foods and materials. Both job losses and job gains will occur across food & agriculture industries and sectors, as new industries emerge and old industries (incumbents) dissolve.
We are likely to experience resulting political pushback as agricultural areas see their key industry threatened. Trade relations will shift because decentralized food production will be far less constrained by geographic and climatic conditions than traditional livestock farming and agriculture.
An exciting outcome - Food-as-Software
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.
“With Food as Software and Precision Fermentation we can make proteins from any animal, from any plant, at speed and scale. The number of possible proteins we can create are mathematically infinite. I did the numbers. It is larger than the number of atoms in the universe.”
The Food-as-Software model will ensure constant iteration so that products improve rapidly, with each version superior and cheaper than the last. It also means that the modern food system will be decentralized and therefore much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or close to towns and cities just as breweries are today.
The driving force behind these new possibilities is precision biology. Precision biology encompasses the information and biotechnologies necessary to design and program cells and organisms, including genetic engineering, synthetic biology, systems biology, metabolic engineering, and computational biology.
Just like software developers, synthetic biologists can engineer biology and improve quality, scalability, nutrition, taste, structure of the products they engineer! Read more about the science behind Precision Fermentation here.
With the aid of artificial intelligence and robotics, we can now create millions of potential versions of new food products and ingredients and at the same time, analyze and test them, to ensure the best combination of nutrition, taste, flavor and aroma. Scientists can now design and synthesize almost any known or unknown molecule, while falling costs to produce these molecules mean we can do this more cheaply than ever before.
The disruption of food and agriculture is inevitable – modern products will be cheaper and superior in every conceivable way – but policymakers, investors, businesses, and civil society as a whole have the power to slow down or speed up their adoption.
To unlock the full potential of this and every other technological disruption, we need to embrace a different approach, one that better reflects the complex, dynamic and rapidly-changing world we live in.