November 10, 2020

Animal-free method to produce high-value proteins wins recognition

A spoonful of white foamy substance.
The egg definitely comes before the chicken, at least as far as protein is concerned. Egg white protein produced from water, glucose and minerals by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has been named as a category winner at EARTO Innovation Awards 2020, a competition for socially and economically significant innovations held by the European Association of Research & Technology.

The research centre was awarded in the category for best expected impact for a biotechnical animal-free method for producing high-value proteins, such as egg white, in a safe, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way.

The method uses a mesophilic fungus to produce the proteins from water, glucose and various minerals – not dissimilarly to beer production. It therefore eliminates the risk of salmonella and exposure to antibiotics associated livestock, and promotes the sustainability of food systems by reducing the dependency on livestock.

“So far, the production method has been tested by VTT in a 300-litre bioreactor, from which it can be easily scaled up for larger production units,” revealed Christopher Landowski, the protein production team’s leader at VTT.

Emilia Nordlund, a research team leader at VTT, said the University of Helsinki has tentatively calculated that producing egg white protein in a cell factory generates approximately 75 per cent less greenhouse gases and uses 90 per cent less land than poultry farming.

“The big change in land use is based on vertical rather than horizontal expansion. This frees up land for returning it to natural state or other than to agricultural use,” she explained.

The production cost of egg white protein produced with the method is estimated to be less than 10 euros a kilo, a level that is competitive compared to the cost of producing the protein with conventional methods.

Scientists at VTT expect food production based on microbial and cellular systems, also known as cellular agriculture, to result in a disruptive change similar to the agricultural revolution that swept the globe between the 1700s and 1900s.

“This is not only about chickens or about eggs; [this] is about creating completely new businesses to disrupt the food system,” declared Nordlund.

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