Disrupting fermentation: Lever VC highlights 5 technologies to improve biotech processes

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - Hispanolistic
Image Credit: Getty Images - Hispanolistic

Related tags alternative protein Protein precision fermentation

Given the complexity of alternative-protein manufacturing, many biotech companies are exploring how to reduce costs with AI technologies, process improvements and novel uses for waste streams from other industries, Lever VC shared in a recent report.

"Fermentation, a timeless technique, has yet to realize its full potential in meeting the demands for alternative protein and bio-economy applications. However, by harnessing the power of data-driven strategies, synthetic biology and modern bioengineering, we are uniquely positioned to propel fermentation-derived products to unprecedented levels of ubiquity and impact,” said Jonathan Avesar, Lever VC’s lead scientific advisor.

[Editor’s note: Interested in learning more about the manufacturing challenges facing the alternative-protein space? Then, join FoodNavigator-USA and ReThink at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins in Chicago, June 17-18. The event will feature discussions on scaling alt-protein production to developing strategies to increase product acceptance and adoption. Register today and check out the agenda here.]

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From AI to lower-cost downstream equipment: Ways to improve biotech processes

Alternative-protein companies that rely on fermentation processes face challenges from scaling up production to designing a facility​ before their product hits the market. Additionally, fermentation process limitations can impede how much of an alternative protein is created.  

In the report, Lever VC identified five technologies that can improve biotech processes, including:

  1. Optimizing organisms with AI/ML to rational design:​ Biotech companies are "limited by the productivity of the microorganisms," which requires them to optimize feedstock and manage biomass densities, Lever VC stated in the report. AI- and machine learning-trained algorithm and rational design — a library of studied biological parts​, including genes and proteins, that can be assembled to create predictable outcomes – are two strategies that can improve microorganism productivity.
  2. Continuous fermentation​: Continuous fermentation​ is a process where culture medium flows through the bioreactor constantly. Large-scale continuous fermentation remains difficult due to the risk of contamination and genetic drift​ — a phenomenon where the frequency of an existing gene variant changes randomly.  Continuous fermentation that "can slot into existing capacity stands poised to revolutionize the landscape,” Lever VC noted. 
  3. Lower-cost downstream processing equipment​: Chromatography – a separation process to create a high-purity protein – and drying are two major expenses in biotech manufacturing. Purity requirements between pharmaceutical and food are different, and traditional drying technologies, like spray and freeze drying, are energy intensive and often compromise an ingredient's nutrition content. Improving these two areas with novel technologies can help drive down manufacturing costs, which account for nearly half of a finished product, Lever VC stated.
  4. Technologies to identify sensory changes in the production process​: Taste remains an obstacle for the alt-protein industry, as consumers expect flavor parity with animal-based products. eNose sensors and similar volatile analysis tools can gather data and identify areas to improve flavor, throughout the biomass fermentation process. Additionally, AI technologies — coupled with tools like eNose sensors — can identify sensory changes and recommend ways to improve them during the manufacturing process. 
  5. Developing waste streams for fermentation growth media standardization​: Precision-fermentation and biomass companies are researching ways to reduce feedstock costs associated with production by using side or waste streams from other industries, including organic waste. These side or waste streams have "inconsistent chemical composition," which makes it difficult to use precision fermentation processes, Lever VC shared in the report. Technologies and processes to improve the standardization of these streams can reduce a key manufacturing expense. 

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