July 14, 2022

At a Pivotal Time, These Biotech Companies Are Changing the Way We Think About Food

Biocom California Members Leading the Way in Food Innovation

Over the next 30 years, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, with an anticipated 59–98 percent increase in food demand. Adding to this challenge are the issues of climate change, smaller crop yields, over-fishing, deforestation, and society’s growing appetite for meat. With that in mind, biotech companies are solving food supply issues by reimagining the way the foods we love are produced. Plant-based proteins, cell-cultivated fish and meat, and innovative approaches to creating everyday ingredients are no longer a thing of the future—they’re here today. Below are a few of our members who are making a major impact on the future of food.

Animal Proteins Without the Animal

You know the age-old question: what comes first, the chicken or the egg? The Every Company is thinking differently about how we solve the dilemma. The animal-free ingredient company is using precision fermentation to create the world’s first chicken-free egg whites, called the Every EggWhite. The DNA sequence from chicken egg proteins is first inserted into yeast, which is fed and then converted into protein through fermentation. With this revolutionary new egg white product that tastes and functions with the same properties as egg whites, The Every Company is reaching bakers using whipped egg whites in meringues and souffles. Recently, the company partnered with Chantal Guillon, known worldwide as a macaron master, to offer a limited-edition box of vegan macarons using the Every EggWhite. The Every Company has high hopes of what can be accomplished through precision fermentation and says they “imagine a world where every protein is animal-free and every factory farm is shut down.”

Geltor has invented a new way to make collagen, creating a sustainable fermentation process that uses microbes and renewable plant-based inputs that results in collagen identical to the bioactive amino acid core of Type 21 poultry collagen. Geltor’s collagen is made completely without animals, making it an attractive option for consumers who avoid animal-based products for various reasons.

Perfect Day, another company using fermentation to create protein without the animal, is throwing microflora into the mix to make cow whey protein. Their approach entails giving microflora a DNA blueprint of how to make whey and then allowing it to incorporate the genetic information into its own genome. The microflora is then mixed with water, sugar, and nutrients to ferment the mixture and create a pure animal protein. After the fermentation comes separating the microflora from the protein, filtering, purifying, and drying it. Once dried, it can be used to make milk, cheese, or any other dairy-based product, like everyone’s favorite: ice cream. By not involving an animal in the process, it eliminates the need for hormones or antibiotics and creates a more stable food system. Perfect Day also states that their way of making dairy produces 97 percent less carbon emissions than traditional milk production, making it a better choice for our planet’s health.

Shiru is pioneering new technologies using AI, machine learning, and bioinformatics to create sustainable, animal-free proteins. By reverse-engineering food from the molecule up, they’re able to make novel ingredients that are major upgrades to the ones we get from conventional agriculture. The company’s patent-pending discovery platform, Flourish, mines hundreds of millions of proteins that can replace undesirable ingredients or be used to create the next plant-based product. Their lab uses precision fermentation and high throughput screening to produce ingredients and validate performance in food. Shiru is working with well-known companies to replace some of the world’s most abundant proteins, including those from eggs and milk.

Tastes Just Like Chicken…or Fish…or Beef

Cell-cultivated meats are fully coming into focus, offering many benefits to our health and the health of our planet. Upside Foods is using cell cultivation to create the most consumed meat in the U.S.: chicken. The most optimal chicken cells are selected first, nourished with micronutrients, and then placed into a cultivator to form meat the way it would be naturally grown on an animal. Two to three weeks later, the meat can be harvested and is ready to be packed, prepared, and enjoyed. Business mogul Richard Branson was one of the first to try the company’s cell-cultivated chicken, taste-testing it in chicken piccata and tikka masala dishes and was noticeably impressed, saying it was the best chicken he’d ever tasted.

Companies like BlueNalu and WildType are growing sushi-grade fish directly from cells, selecting those that are free from contaminants like mercury, enabling us to enjoy delicious fish with the same nutritional composition as conventional seafood and without toxins. With the alarming rate at which our oceans are being overfished and polluted, these solutions give us a way to reverse trends of global food insecurity.

SCiFi Foods is combining plant-based proteins with cell-cultured beef and using CRISPR gene editing to create cell lines that can be manufactured more efficiently and at a lower cost. The team there is constantly tweaking cell lines to grow cells faster, at a higher density, and that are more robust. In a recent interview with FoodNavigator-USA, founder Joshua March was asked how consumers will react to lab-grown meat, saying “It’s the younger generation who are most excited about ‘lab-grown’ meat, and that’s also the generation that values transparency, authenticity, and also a sense of fun.” The company recently made a big breakthrough, becoming the first organization in the world to announce edible beef cell lines that grow in single-cell suspension.

CO2 to Feed Humans, Not Just Plants

Inspired by NASA technology, Kiverdi is transforming CO2 into nutrients and bio-based products that can be consumed by humans. The concept comes from astronauts who would exhale CO2, which would be captured by microbes then converted into food using other inputs such as power and water. The company’s subsidiaries include Air Protein, which uses the above process to create proteins similar to chicken, beef, and fish, and Aquafeed, which combines CO2, nitrogen, hydrogen, and water with added mineral nutrients to make a complete protein that feeds fish.

Alternative Ingredients

Producing sugarcane requires massive land use and can contribute to deforestation, but Amyris is on a mission to completely change the way we make sugar that’s better for the planet and healthier for people. The company has discovered a way to ferment sugarcane using a proprietary yeast strain to make a zero-calorie sweetener that tastes just like sugar. The sweetener, called PureCane, requires one-tenth of the agriculture acreage of traditional sugarcane growing methods and is made from sugarcane grown sustainably in Brazil, far away from the Amazon.

Debut Biotechnology, a company led by 2021 Biocom California Catalyst Award Winner Joshua Britton, Ph.D., is using natural enzyme approaches to overcome the cell limitations that come with the current biomanufacturing process. Their method provides a sustainable, low-cost, and consistent supply of natural ingredients. Most recently, the company teamed up with fine chemical company DIC to produce natural, sustainable color ingredients for food. These color ingredients are made without the use of petrochemicals and made using less waste and energy than traditional methods.