The State of the Science on Alternative Proteins: May through August 2023

Alternative proteins offer some of the most game-changing research opportunities around the world. Here are the latest developments in the scientific ecosystem.
State of the science on alternative proteins

May through August 2023

In our latest State of the Science snapshot, you’ll see that scientists worldwide are contributing to the advancement of alternative protein science. Let’s briefly tour our newest resources and some of the most impactful research that has surfaced over the last four months.

Plant-based proteins

  • GFI and Bright Green Partners recently launched an analysis on plant-based meat manufacturing capacity and pathways for expansion and two supplementary reports with detailed action recommendations for specific stakeholders. This analysis quantifies the existing global plant-based meat manufacturing landscape and evaluates pathways for expanding capacity to meet future demand. 
  • A major trend that emerged over the past four months was the use of biological and heat processing techniques to improve protein quality and flavor profile. In this case, protein quality encompasses many aspects of functionality. Researchers demonstrated that enzymatic, fermentation, heat, and extrusion processes can improve plant protein extractability, digestibility, amino acid profile, flavor, and allergenicity. We highlight two examples where such treatments were used to improve the flavor profile of plant proteins in rapeseed (canola) and pea.
  • There are many methods to isolate protein-rich fractions from crops, each of which has a unique impact on protein functionality and performance. Two notable examples in recent months are related to the fractionation of mung beans, a popular legume used in plant-based meat, egg, and other applications due to its high solubility and protein content along with advantageous gelling behavior and savory flavor. Dig into research from GFI grantee Miek Schlangen and colleagues and a recent patent from Eat JUST to learn more.
  • Plant-based fats that can mimic the desirable properties of animal-based fats with improved nutritional value are a perennial target. Our snapshot highlights two impressive results from mid-2023 that use little to no fat ingredients to emulate the characteristics of conventional animal fats, including a study from researchers at the University of Leeds and another paper from researchers at Iowa State University.
  • GFI grantee David Julian McClements reviewed the soft matter physics principles associated with modeling the rheological properties of plant-based foods in an effort to boost the design and development of next-generation plant-based meat, seafood, egg, and dairy products. Researchers at Wageningen University reviewed the physicochemical processes that occur during high-moisture extrusion and provided a helpful appendix with suggestions for further experimental analysis.

Fermentation-derived proteins

  • GFI and Integration Consulting published an analysis on fermentation capacity and pathways for scaling. This report provides analysis and identification of fermentation-derived protein companies, the identification of CMOs in the space, characterization of major decision factors for planning production approaches, and the identification of potential retrofit opportunities along with their pros and cons. 
  • The publication of several TEAs highlights the advantages of fermentation-derived alternative proteins and identifies opportunities. Risner and colleagues from the University of California, Davis conducted a mycoprotein TEA that includes an editable spreadsheet for modeling purposes. Vlaeminck and colleagues, based in Belgium, constructed a TEA around a gas fermentation strategy for single-cell protein using Moorella thermoacetica.
  • Another trend that emerged over the last four months was prospecting and characterizing new chassis microbes for fermentation-derived proteins and lipids. New alternative protein and lipid-producing microbes can be capitalized on for their ability to produce high product titers, use inexpensive feedstocks, grow robustly in bioreactors, generate valuable coproducts, and enable efficient DSP. See these recent publications from China and Sweden for relevant examples.
  • Recent research has also focused on the high digestibility and functionality of microbial protein ingredients. Using an in vitro model of digestion, researchers from Sweden determined that the biomass protein samples from five different fungi had digestibility profiles similar to those of animal-derived proteins. Another study from researchers in Singapore showed that increasing the microalgae content in plant-based fishcakes led to high digestibility scores, increased fats, and better surimi-like texture.

Cultivated meat

  • GFI scientists, in collaboration with the CRISP Meats Centre in Singapore, conducted a survey that asked dozens of questions about cell lines being used for cultivated meat production. Responses from over 40 companies have been compiled in a new report released in June. The report is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in providing high-value cell lines for the cultivated meat industry — an area that is still neglected. But more cell lines are becoming available for researchers every month — be sure to check out our up-to-date database for the latest information on cell lines available to researchers. 
  • June was a big month in the United States, with the USDA simultaneously providing grants of inspection to UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat, meaning that both companies now have the green light to sell cultivated meat. Just a few weeks later, both companies debuted their cultivated chicken products at world-class restaurants in San Francisco and Washington D.C. Not long after the U.S. approvals, the company Aleph Farms announced that it had submitted safety information to regulators in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
  • It has been well-known for decades that glutamine metabolism to ammonia leads to a decrease in cell viability at certain concentrations. This buildup of ammonia poses a challenge for achieving scaled production of high-density cell cultures. Scientists from Mosa Meat in the Netherlands came up with a solution that avoids glutamine altogether. Read more about this simple solution that could open the door to more intensive processing, ultimately leading to larger-scale and lower-cost cultivated meat production. 
  • A new techno-economic analysis of cultivated meat by Ark Biotech explores cost factors in cultivated meat production. It suggests achieving cost parity may necessitate bioreactors 50 times larger than current sizes. Presently, cultivated meat costs approximately $30 per pound. However, with bioreactors up to 1 million liters in volume, media cost reductions, and increased biomass through differentiation, costs could drop to around $2 per pound. This analysis provides crucial insights for refining cultivated meat production strategies.
  • A longer-term challenge for the cultivated meat industry will be formulating media that results in low feed conversion ratios (which indicates higher efficiency use of the feed) by tailoring the ingredient composition to the metabolic needs of each cell line, which can be aided by the creation of genome-scale metabolic models. In a recent review article, GFI research fellow Sandra Romero discusses the types of data and different techniques that can be used to leverage systems biology and metabolic modeling for cell media optimization and cost reduction.

Cultivated seafood

These three exciting technical developments within cultivated seafood are all supported by GFI’s grant program.

  • An ongoing challenge for researchers investigating cultivated seafood is the lack of readily available cell lines from relevant species and cell types. A new paper from Dr. David Kaplan’s lab at Tufts University helps address that challenge with an immortalized line from Atlantic mackerel muscle.
  • A new study from Dr. Reza Ovissipour and coworkers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (US) used an artificial intelligence-based approach to simultaneously optimize the global warming potential, cost, and cell growth rate of a reduced-serum culture media formulation for a zebrafish cultivated meat production system.
  • GFI grantee Dr. Mukunda Goswami and collaborators from India and the U.S. have developed a new cell line, designated LRM, from the skeletal muscle tissue of L. rohita (tropical freshwater carp). This study contributes to understanding in vitro myogenesis and will play a significant role in accelerating cultivated fish meat production.

A deeper dive

The last four months have been brimming with exciting advancements in alt protein science and the larger ecosystem. Luckily our SciTech team is here to give you all the details you may have missed.