What is Precision Fermentation? Precision Fermentation Alliance and Food Fermentation Europe Reveal Expanded Definition 

Trade organizations the Precision Fermentation Alliance (PFA) and Food Fermentation Europe (FFE) have revealed a new expanded definition of precision fermentation (PF) to provide clarity on its unique characteristics, its differences from other fermentation-based technologies, and its applications.

With biomass fermentation, traditional fermentation, and other technologies like molecular farming and plant cell culture emerging to make novel ingredients for food, the collaboration aims to help stakeholders, regulators, and consumers understand the basics of PF technology.

Recently, precision fermentation has been in the spotlight, with various companies announcing the launch of animal-free dairy proteins, human milk fat analogs, and proteins for eggs. However, before its emergence for alt proteins, the technology has been safely used in food and medicine for over three decades to make insulin, rennet for cheese, and vitamins.

Trade organizations, the Precision Fermentation Alliance (PFA) and Food Fermentation Europe (FFE) have revealed a new expanded definition of precision fermentation.
© Precision Fermentation Alliance

What is precision fermentation?

According to the new definition: “Precision fermentation combines the process of traditional fermentation with the latest advances in biotechnology to efficiently produce a compound of interest, such as a protein, flavor molecule, vitamin, pigment, or fat.”

How does it work?

To provide clear boundaries between precision fermentation and other fermentation-based technologies, the organizations have added a description of how the technology works:

  • “A specific molecular sequence is inserted into a microorganism to give it instructions to produce the desired molecule when fermented. These molecular sequences are derived from digitized databases rather than taken directly from the relevant animals or plants.”
  • “At the end of the fermentation process, the resulting compounds are filtered out, separating them from the microorganisms that produced them.”
An egg-free omelet
Image courtesy of The EVERY Co.

What are the differences with other technologies?

According to the organizations, PF leverages the latest bioengineering techniques to engineer microorganisms, such as yeasts and fungi, to make specific products they otherwise would not produce. It leverages synthetic biology to give microbes specific DNA instructions.

However, PF does not use animal DNA. It uses genetic sequences already created and stored in databases to make bioidentical animal-free proteins (among other compounds). This fact differs from cultivated meat, which samples cells from live or dead animals to grow a “mass of cells.”

This animal-free characteristic of precision-fermented ingredients has brought to the table whether these ingredients could be labeled vegan. Since PF proteins are said to be bioidentical to their animal counterparts, they could trigger reactions in people with milk allergies, for example. As the industry advances, regulations and labeling will be established.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, the precision fermentation company TurtleTree announced that it had obtained vegan certification from Vegan Action for its lactoferrin protein.

A range of cheeses made with animal-free dairy proteins
© Change Foods

Other boundaries

The organizations explain that bioengineering distinguishes PF from traditional and “wild” fermentation and other non-GMO breeding techniques used in biomass fermentation.  

For example, the Canadian company Smallfood has discovered a wild microalgae strain capable of producing premium proteins through biomass fermentation. Also, Nature’s Fynd and Quorn use non-GM microorganisms that have been targeted because they already produce a determined compound.

Another feature of PF is that the end products do not contain genetically modified microorganisms. They are filtered through purification processes because PF develops molecules, not a “cell biomass,” such as cultivated meat or mycoprotein, or dry mycelium biomass (My Forest Foods).

Irina Gerry, Spokesperson of PFA and CEO of Change Foods, shared: “Our collaboration with FFE has resulted in a comprehensive definition that emphasizes the distinctive features of Precision Fermentation and its applications, as well as draws clear boundaries between precision fermentation and other fermentation-based technologies,” said

Jevan Nagarajah, President of FFE, commented: “While some applications of precision fermentation may be new, the technology itself has been safely used in food and medicine like producing insulin for over 30 years. We are excited to contribute to the understanding of PF and its role in advancing food innovation.”

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