Highlights from the ‘Microorganisms as an enabler of future sustainable food systems’ seminar

October 31, 2023

On October 23, the first webinar of this year organized by the EFFoST Working Group on Sustainable Food Systems took place, focusing on the topic “Microorganisms as an enabler of future sustainable food systems” with 268 participants.

The webinar was chaired by Arthur Robin (Cultivated Biosciences SA, Switzerland) and Felix Schottroff (BOKU Vienna, Austria) and featured renowned speakers form academia, startups, as well as consultancy – to share insights about microbial systems for food and feed production.

In the initial talk, Tomas Linder (associate professor, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) gave a general background and overview about the importance of microorganisms for sustainable food production. Fermentation can either be used to produce edible microbial biomass (“single-cell protein” or “single-cell oil”) or to produce recombinant proteins through precision fermentation. In any case, the strategies to feed carbon to microorganisms (C-source) are essential to achieve an efficient and sustainable production. Tomas Linder explained the known production methods for edible or inedible plant biomass (lignocellulosic materials combined with enzymatic treatments) as well as more novel strategies where the carbon comes directly from gas or by capture of CO2. He highlighted the necessity to improve CO2 capture and conversion technologies and raised awareness on consumer adoption of microbial products. To conclude his talk, Tomas sent a clear message considering the feed strategy for edible microbial biomass: “stay off the sugar!”.

In the second talk, Eran Noah (Remilk Ltd., Israel) showed the developments in terms of milk proteins derived from microbial fermentation. He highlighted the strong impact of the dairy industry on the environment and how precision fermentation (using GMO strains) to produce milk proteins is an answer to strongly decrease the environmental impact. Remilk proteins are used to create dairy products with the same taste and texture than the animal-derived counterparts. Their process is already scaled up (production in 3 continents) and co-branded products are already commercially available in Israel. Eran showed the progress their company made in the field of microbial food ingredients and therefore provided a projection of future developments to be expected also in other countries.

Afterwards, Dimitri Zogg (Cultivated Biosciences SA, Switzerland), showed the progress of the startup developing an emulsion made from non-GMO yeast as a functional food ingredient. Their goal is to produce an emulsion to reach dairy texture. He described the current challenge of scaling up the production process and obtaining the regulatory approvals in the US and EU. Moreover, the startup conducted an internal life cycle assessment (LCA) to evaluate and eventually optimize the environmental impact of the company. Dimitri showed the planned steps and potential challenges that companies in this field may face during the development process of microbial food ingredients.

Lastly, Pauliina Halimaa (Biosafe Ltd., Finland) gave an overview of EU regulatory pathways for alternative proteins or other fermentation products and pointed out the arising complexities – as well as potential strategies on how to handle them. Moreover, she explained the framework for the use of genetically modified microorganisms in the EU as well as the transparency regulation and the qualified presumption of safety (QPS) assessment process.

In the following discussion with the audience, several topics were discussed among the experts, including consumer acceptance of microbial products, taste, texture and health-related properties of the novel products and the price as an essential motivation for consumers. Moreover, sustainability of carbon and nitrogen feedstocks, regulatory approval and upscaling were further discussed, especially considering the timelines of regulatory approval for companies.

Altogether, the webinar gave a comprehensive overview on the topic of foods and food ingredients derived from microorganisms, showed the current progress of this novel food source and gave implications for its implementation in the food system of the future.

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