Science of Precision Fermentation
Precision Fermentation is a process that allows us to program micro-organisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule.
Read more about the science behind Precision Fermentation below.
The Science of Precision Fermentation
Precision Fermentation is a process where micro-organisms (usually yeast, algae or bacteria) are programmed with genetic engineering techniques (such as CRISPR, gene editing or cloning).
These micro-organisms are then fermented in brewery-style fermentation tanks to produce a range of fats or proteins that are biologically similar to animal products. Leather, honey, dairy, meat, eggs, fish and any kind of protein imaginable can all be produced by precision fermentation.
Precision Fermentation technology shifts the production of proteins, fats, and other products from animals to bioreactors. But while production within large industrial bioreactors is ultimately more efficient than within an animal’s body, the conditions within and around these bioreactors must be carefully controlled in much the same way that a warm-blooded animal’s nervous system must regulate its body temperature. Environmental control of this kind requires a substantial amount of energy.
The functional protein or indeed any other type of molecule produced through Precision Fermentation, is usually produced in relatively small amounts compared to the total volume of a bioreactor, however, it can also be used in minute amounts as an ingredient in other products. In the case of milk, for example, the protein component is only 3.3% by weight. So the Precision Fermentation facility’s output will often be these individual ingredients to be sold to other businesses to be incorporated into products.
After the fermentation process ends there is often a much higher volume of microorganisms than there are kg of the desired ingredients. Some companies capitalize on this biomass, as it can be dried and formed into high-protein food, feed or material products. Many companies, in fact, focus exclusively on producing this dried biomass. Single-cell agriculture and the production of mycoprotein using fungal microorganisms is one of the most established technologies for creating meat alternatives, and often has far greater yields for similar inputs.
Cellular agriculture, another emerging technology, makes whole muscle cuts of meat and fish by growing the animal cells outside an animal in a bioreactor. Unlike Precision Fermentation, a kg of cell-based meat is a whole product and will be purchased in similar amounts to cuts of meat. But growing cells is more challenging than fermenting micro-organisms partly because it is difficult to get cells to proliferate in large volumes with high cell density. This can make the yields lower even though the output is a finished product.
Precision Fermentation is possible because of the extraordinary progress we’ve made in our understanding of precision biology.
Precision biology is the combination of our knowledge of modern information technologies (like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the cloud) with our knowledge of modern biotechnologies (like genetic engineering, synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, systems biology, bioinformatics and computational biology).
Scientists use precision biology to understand genetic information, including the proteins and other molecules that make up our plants and animals. Scientists store this genetic information in massive searchable databases, and use this information to copy, edit and paste genetic sequences, even brand new sequences they have designed, into microbes. These microbes can then act as highly efficient factories. They consume the genetic information scientists give them (whether from a plant, animal, or something entirely new) to create a brand new substance or product.
Through Precision Fermentation, scientists are able remove the harmful or unwanted qualities of a food or product, and add in beneficial qualities which they want to enhance. In this way, Precision Fermentation can create products that can look, feel, or even taste better.