Welcome to Future Foods Friday! In this new Friday series, we will focus on patent, regulatory and other issues associated with “future food technologies” such as non-animal derived food products, cellular agriculture, and gene editing techniques. As many readers are aware, these innovative technologies have the potential to provide sustainable, affordable, and secure nutrition for the growing global population. In this first post, we provide some background on a few of the future food technologies that will be the subject of future posts.
Non-animal derived food products: Non-animal derived food products involve fashioning analogues of traditional food products such as meat, seafood, and dairy products from non-animal derived sources such as plants (e.g., as pulses (lentils, peas, fava, chickpeas, mung beans), wheat, soy, etc.), insects, bugs, worms, and/or microorganisms (e.g., algae, fungi, etc.). For example, plant-based food products are generally made by mixing plant proteins with other ingredients such as one or more fats, starches, fibers, binding ingredients, spices and/or colorants (such as from vegetable and fruit dyes) and often extruded to result in the appropriate shape and texture. One of the challenges with non-animal derived food products is to mimic the texture and flavor of the relevant product, such as meat. Companies have developed innovative ways of addressing these issues. For example, Impossible Foods has patented technology for producing a soy leghemoglobin protein which imparts a reddish-brown color and beefy flavor in their burgers. In contrast, Beyond Meat uses beetroot juice to recreate the “ooze” of blood from its burgers. Other companies use 3D printing to produce their food products (e.g., Redefine Meat). Still other companies use fermentation (e.g., precision fermentation) to produce their products (e.g., Helaina to make breast milk and Air Protein to make meat-alternatives out of elements in the air).
Cellular agriculture (also known as “cultured” or “clean” meat): Cellular agricultural borrows well known techniques from the biotech industry which have traditionally been used to produce medicines. Specifically, cellular agricultural involves taking biopsies from the relevant animal, fish, or crustacean whose meat is to be replicated. From these biopsies, the “right” cells are identified, isolated, and converted into stable cell lines which proliferate in a bioreactor together with a mix of nutrients and growth factors, buffering solutions, temperature, etc. After sufficient proliferation, the cells differentiate into muscle fibers that aggregate on a scaffold (e.g., a 3D structural support) to provide a structured equivalent of a food product (e.g., a steak). If a scaffold is not used, unstructured products (e.g., a burger) can be obtained. There are a plethora of companies working in this area on a variety of products from beef (e.g., Aleph Farms, Future Meat, Meatable, Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat), chicken (e.g., Future Meat, Memphis Meats), duck (e.g., Memphis Meats), lamb (e.g., Future Meat), pork (e.g., Future Meat, Meatable), foie gras (e.g., Integriculture) seafood (e.g., Shiok Meats, BlueNalu, Finless Foods) to breast milk (e.g., Biomilq, Turtletree Labs).
Gene editing techniques: Gene editing techniques have the potential to allow for important improvements in animals and plants, such as disease and/or pest resistance, drought and cold tolerance, and/or increases in yield. For example, transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN) have been used by Calyxt to create high-oleic soybeans which have been on the market since 2019. Tropic Biosciences has developed a proprietary technique, gene editing induced gene silencing (GEiGS), to create coffee with reduced caffeine and increased solubility as well as novel banana varieties that are resistant to Panama disease. Genus PLC is using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/Cas9 (CRISPR) to create resistance in pigs to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRS) which is one of the great scourges of pig production around the world.
As the search continues for more sustainable food sources, there are plenty of opportunities for innovation with future food technologies. It will be fascinating to watch as the global intellectual property and regulatory frameworks for these products continue to develop and mature over time.
This post was written by Lisa Mueller.