History of Precision Fermentation

Fermentation has been essential throughout human history and our evolution. Precision Fermentation will play a crucial role in our future.

Read more about the history of Precision Fermentation below.

A Brief History of Fermentation

Fermentation is an ancient process, tightly bound with the human story and essential to our species' evolution. Humans have been fermenting for thousands of years to make all kinds of foods that we eat every day. Foods such as bread, yogurt, vinegar, tofu and pickles, and drinks such as beer and wine are all made using fermentation. In nature, microbes carry out fermentation all the time.

Fermentation is simply the breakdown of an organic substance - usually sugar - by a microbe. This process can create proteins, enzymes or fats, depending on the genetic properties of the microbe itself, and can preserve foods for much longer than they would last in their natural form. Fermentation allowed our ancestors to store and save their food in a way that they had never been able to before. Rather than an endless daily effort to hunt, forage and survive, humans were able to store, prepare and collaborate. Fermentation was arguably one of the most revolutionary discoveries for the advancement of our human family.

In the last 100 years, we've harnessed our understanding of this ancient technique, and have learnt to produce vitamins, medications, solvents, organics, acids and even industrial enzymes through fermentation.

Precision Fermentation is simply the next step in our understanding…






History of fermentation in global food production

The term Industrial Fermentation refers to the time in our history when fermentation began to play a large role in industries all over the world. In the 20th century, producers started altering microbes in large quantities and in the right conditions, to produce complex organic molecules through fermentation.

Many familiar products we use today were produced in this way. Ethanol for alcoholic drinks or fuel, n-butanol for rubber production, penicillin for treating infections, citric acid as a disinfectant or for flavoring, amino acids like the flavoring agent MSG and vitamins we take every day, such as C, B2, B12 and D2 are able to be used all over the world because of industrial fermentation.

The addition of Precision Biology to the industrial fermentation process allowed for Precision Fermentation. This technology advancement has been revolutionary for how we produce all kinds of products. We can now engineer the genes of the microbes so precisely, that the results of the fermentation process produce incredibly accurate results. Today we can produce industrially fermented molecules faster, cheaper, and using fewer resources than ever before.

Initially, high costs meant Precision Fermentation was used primarily in the pharmaceuticals industry. The first Precision Fermentation product on the market was, in fact, human insulin in the early 1980s. This was quickly followed by several more Precision Fermentation drugs, including human growth hormone, the hepatitis B vaccine and human erythropoietin (a hormone originating in the kidney). Another group of Precision Fermentation drugs known as biologics came after that to treat conditions such as anemia, AIDS, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis and certain cancers.






How are Precision Fermentation products used today, and how can they be used in the future?

Since this time of Precision Fermentation drugs, the costs of these drugs have become even cheaper. Today, ingredients made with Precision Fermentation are starting to be used in our food products, and other reasonably-priced goods. The ingredients made using Precision Fermentation usually have a specific purpose in mind; it could be to improve the smell or taste of a product, or to enhance a products structural or medicinal properties. Ingredients made using Precision Fermentation increase the quality of the final product, while only making up a small portion of it.
Proteins are the most common molecules made using Precision Fermentation today, as proteins bring many of the key characteristics to a product, like flavor, texture, structure or medicinal value. However, other types of molecules have the potential to be made as well, including fats, oils and chemical compounds. This means that products across many different industries could benefit. We have the potential to make any protein imaginable!
Several companies are now producing plant-based dairy alternatives using Precision Fermentation technologies, including Perfect Day and New Culture. These companies have attracted significant investment and attention from both consumers and the media, indicating that there is significant interest in these products.
Additionally, several major dairy companies have also started to invest in Precision Fermentation technologies as a way to diversify their product portfolios and reduce their environmental impact. For example, Danone has formed a partnership with Perfect Day to produce plant-based dairy products, and Fonterra, one of New Zealand's largest dairy companies, has invested in Motif Ingredients, a company that is developing dairy proteins using Precision Fermentation.

Join the community

Sign up with your email address to receive research, news and analyses from RethinkX.