Cultivated food

Ocean microbes could be key to animal-free meat

A class of marine microbes may prove to be a valuable source of nutritional supplements and other useful ingredients for various practical applications in medicine, cosmetics and even animal-free meat, according to a study by Flinders University researchers.

The research, published in Trends in Biotechnology, concentrates on thraustochytrids. These microbes are found in South Australian waters and may be useful because of the omega-3 fatty acids in their lipid profile that can be extracted through a fermentation process.


“By tuning the thraustochytrids through precision fermentation, we can produce single-cell oil (SCO), which can be used by the nutraceutical industry for producing supplements and other nutraceuticals, with the added advantage that it doesn’t require agricultural land and can be cultivated in a controlled environment, keeping the SCO free from contamination,” said Associate Professor Munish Puri from Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health.

“We also know that thraustochytrids can produce a wide range of high-value bioproducts, such as omega-3 fatty acids, squalene (used in cosmetics and vaccines), exopolysaccharides (used in pharmaceuticals), enzymes, aquaculture feed, pigments and lipids suitable for biodiesel composition.”

These components may all prove useful for various industries if extracted via the use of a large-scale bioreactor system. Importantly, the composition of the fermented thraustochytrids makes them an attractive ingredient for animal-free meats, which could benefit from their fatty structure, which is something that most plants lack.

“To produce plant-based meats, it requires proteins, nutrients and fats. Thraustochytrids are an oleaginous (oily) microorganism that produce high lipid (fat) content and it is expected that these fats will mimic the structure of animal fats, enhancing the sensory properties of plant-based meats, and confer a delicious taste,” Puri said.

The research is now being applied via a partnership with Nourish Ingredients as part of the project ‘Advanced lipid fermentation facility of local manufacture of future foods’, which has received $2.829 million from the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) Grants scheme. The project is aiming to produce environmentally friendly protein using the fermented thraustochytrids.

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