What does food have to do with climate change? Quite a lot, because as population density increases, so does the demand for food. At the same time, resources are being consumed, posing even greater challenges to our environment and climate. With its “Food 2030” priority, the European Union is pursuing the goal of ensuring innovative research for the future viability of our food system.
Within the framework of its research program, acib GmbH already contributes to the development of suitable solutions for sustainable and healthy nutrition. Here are some examples and project ideas from the field of biotechnology:
Healthy fatty acids from microorganisms:
Not all fat is bad: there are many fatty acids that are important for the human body and therefore healthy. An important example of this is phytanic acid and its metabolite pristanoic acid. Both are important branched-chain fatty acids that have numerous positive effects on our health. However, they are only found in meat, fish and dairy products, and this is not compatible with the quite trendy dietary concept of vegans.
Biotechnology offers a way out: starting from inexpensive chlorophyll, an enzymatic cascade reaction enables us to produce phytanic acid. The necessary enzymes can be isolated e.g. from the bovine rumen, where these reactions occur with extraordinary efficiency. Thus, phytanic acid could be produced with the help of microorganisms and used, for example, as a food supplement or as an additive for alternative meat and dairy products.
CO2 recycling for nutritious proteins
Proteins are another essential aspect for a balanced diet, but with an increasing population on earth it’s getting more and more difficult to meet these demands. Overfishery and extensive land use are the consequences. To relieve these agricultural areas, our researchers have developed alternative production routes that make use of the greenhouse gas CO2
The technology of CO2
-conversion to nutrients led to the foundation of two acib spin-off companies, namely econutri (https://econutri.com
, recently awarded with the Styrian innovation award) and Arkeon Biotechnologies (https://www.arkeon.bio
). While econutri uses a bacterial organism, Arkeon focuses on ancient archaebacteria. They have different strategies, but both are able to use CO2
as their sole carbon source and (together with H2
) to convert it into proteins that can be used as food or feed.
Vitamins and flavor carriers through enzymes
To strengthen their own vitamin balance, many people turn to dietary supplements and vitamin preparations. But these also need to be produced as sustainably as possible. acib has developed a number of biocatalytic processes for this purpose: On the one hand, enzymatic glycosylation can make, for example, vitamin C or resveratrol, a famous anti-oxidant found in red wine, considerably more stable. On the other hand, vitamin E or other antioxidants, such as 3-hydroxytyrosol (e.g. in olive oil) and nothofagin (e.g. rooibos tea) can be produced naturally with the help of microorganisms. It’s obvious: biotechnology offers a range of opportunities to address the grand challenges of a sustainable food system.