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article imageWill microbial protein replace meat on the table? Special

By Tim Sandle     Dec 1, 2017 in Science
Oxford - In order to address global warming and the inefficiencies of animal production, a diet of a microbial derived protein could be on the menu, according to Professor Willy Verstraete from the University of Ghent.
Professor Verstraete put forward this choice in a lecture centered on futurism, delivered to the annual Pharmaceutical Microbiology Interest Group (Pharmig) conference which took place in Oxfordshire at the end of November, 2017.
The lecture was titled “What ‘Innovative Eco-Microbiology’ has Potential for the Needs of the Next Decade?”, and it examined design, operation and control of processes mediated by mixed microbial cultures. This led into innovative designs for drinking water production plants (slow sand filtration); aerobic wastewater treatment (based on nitrification-denitrification); and bioremediation processes of soils and sediments.
Professor Willy Verstraete addresses Pharmig conference  2017.
Professor Willy Verstraete addresses Pharmig conference, 2017.
ProMic - microbial protein
However it was discussions around ‘ProMic’ (a derivation of 'protein microbiology') that sparked the greatest interest from the audience. Alternatives are needed, according to the researcher, to address the environmental impact of meat production. These disrupters take the form of pollution through fossil fuel usage, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption.
As Professor Verstraete sums up the situation: “We need to address the issues facing our planet, the inefficiencies of meat production, the extent of fossil fuel use, the economic inefficiencies.” Some of the environmental concerns are outlined in the following video excerpt:
ProMic is microbially derived and rich in protein. It begins with a developed microbiome (a microbial community) which is placed into a bioreactor (which undertakes the microbial bioconversion). By running controlled conditions, this produces a microbial protein.
Biotechnological process
The process has been relatively streamlined, according to Professor Verstraete. He told the conference: “We understand how to control all off this through an understanding of the microbiome, how microbes interact and which ones are in control. Understanding biochemical signals and information flows allows a means of affecting community behavior.”
Excerpt from Professor Willy Verstraete s lecture on microbial proteins.
Excerpt from Professor Willy Verstraete's lecture on microbial proteins.
At present ProMic is used as an animal feed; however, it has the potential to become a protein source to create a product that looks and tastes like meat, satisfying the cravings of the majority of the world’s omnivores while being produced in more sustainable way. As Professor Verstraete sated, as he opened up this section of the presentation: “Soon we will be eating artificial meat...microbial made meat.”
There are many steps to be taken, including safety and regulator assessments, before microbial protein ends up on supermarket shelves, plus the added challenge of ‘selling’ the product to the consumer. Nonetheless, microbial protein does have the potential to trigger a disruptive challenge to the meat sector.
Quality control and Bill Gates
Safety is an important factor, according to Professor Verstraete: “We need good quality assurance. Good microbial risk assessment. We do not want to be eating Salmonella or Shigella with our meat.” This was a reference to two food-poisoning causing bacteria. Shigella species can cause people to develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, if infected food is eaten; similarly, Salomnella infection leads to diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 18 to 72 hours after contaminated food has been ingested.
Professor Willy Verstraete s lecture on microbial protein as a meat substitute.
Professor Willy Verstraete's lecture on microbial protein as a meat substitute.
How likely is this slice of futurism? Professor Verstraete is confident, noting how “this work his being supported by Bill Gates. He sees this as part of his vision for a sustainable future.”
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