The focus is now shifting towards sustainable solution for nutritious microbial food. Korea researchers propose microbial food production from sustainable raw materials.

Researchers in Korea are proposing microbial food production using sustainable raw materials to address the escalating global food crisis fueled by rapid population growth and dwindling food productivity due to climate change. This food crisis is exacerbated by the substantial carbon dioxide emissions from today’s food production and supply systems, accounting for 30% of humanity’s total emissions and worsening climate change. The focus is now shifting towards sustainable and nutritious microbial food as a crucial solution.

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), led by President Kwang Hyung Lee, announced that Research Professor Kyeong Rok Choi from the BioProcess Engineering Research Center and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering have published a paper outlining a research direction for “microbial food production from sustainable raw materials.”

Microbial food referrers to a range of foods and food ingredients produced using microorganisms. Microbial biomass boasts a high protein content per unit of dry mass, comparable to meat, while emitting minimal carbon dioxide and requiring less resources to produce compared to livestock, fish, shellfish, and crops. Its small water and space requirements make it an eco-friendly, sustainable, and highly nutritious food source.

Fermented foods are the most readily available microbial foods around us. Although the proportion of microbial biomass in fermented foods is small, compounds with relatively low nutritional value, such as carbohydrates, are consumed during the fermentation process, and as microorganisms proliferate, the content of nutrients with higher nutritional value, such as proteins and vitamins, increases.

Various food compounds isolated and purified from biomass or culture media obtained through microbial culture are also a branch of microbial food. Examples that can be found around us include various amino acids, including monosodium glutamate, food proteins, enzymes, flavoring compounds, food colorings, and bioactive substances.

Lastly, the most ultimate and fundamental form of microbial food can be said to be microbial biomass or extracts produced through microbial culture and foods cooked using them. A representative example is single-cell protein, which collectively refers to microbial biomass or microbial proteins extracted from it.

In this paper, the researchers comprehensively covered various non-edible raw materials and strategies for using them that can be used to produce microbial food in a more sustainable way. Furthermore, it covers various microbial foods that are actually produced in the industry using the relevant raw materials and their characteristics, as well as prospects for the production and generalization of sustainable microbial foods.

Second author Seok Yeong Jung, a doctoral student, also said, “Microbial foods of the future will not be limited foods consumed only out of a sense of obligation to the environment, but will be complete foods that are consumed by choice because of their nutritional value and taste.” In addition, Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee said, “It is time for the industry and academia, as well as the public and private sectors, to cooperate more closely so that more diverse microbial foods can be developed and supplied in order to create a sustainable society for ourselves and our descendants.”

This paper was published online on April 9 in ‘Nature Microbiology’ published by Nature.

This research was conducted under the development of platform technologies of microbial cell factories for the next-generation biorefineries project (project leader KAIST Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee) supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Cooperative Research Program for Agriculture Science and Technology Development (Project leader KAIST Research Professor Kyeong Rok Choi) of the Agricultural Microbiology Project Group (Director, Professor Pahn-Shick Chang) supported by the Rural Development Administration.

Reference: Choi, K. R., et al. (2024). From sustainable feedstocks to microbial foods. Nature Microbiology.

Source: KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)

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