Focal Molography Beyond Healthcare- Feeding the Future
Biosensors and industrial food production don’t seem to go hand in hand at first glance; how could a biosensor detecting molecular interactions be relevant in food? As you will see in this article, they could be a match made in heaven.
A New Era
The food industry is changing; while its core focus in the past was efficiency, it now shifts to sustainability. Indeed, we are in an era where more is not better, but in fact detrimental. The food industry is evolving to adapt to the constraints it faces today: more people, more consequences. The world needs sustainable food sources to continue to feed its population without destroying its habitat. The task is daunting: sufficient production quantity, product quality, nutritional value, taste, texture, but also maintenance of centuries of cooking and tradition all need to be present in sustainable alternatives and solutions. Necessity is the mother of invention, but also of innovation. How did the food industry innovate? Where is it headed?
One of the main changes seen in today’s generation is the rising awareness concerning animal agriculture, and its devastating environmental impact. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), nearly 16% of the world’s fresh water and 1/3 of the world’s grain production are used to uphold livestock. Furthermore, animal agriculture accounts for around 0.65 gigatons of CO2 emissions per year, making it the single largest contributor to emissions around the globe; an average American consuming beef creates around 900 kg of CO2 per year. Cattle in particular create a heavy burden on the environment. With their high production of greenhouse gases (methane especially) and the pastures created for them by woodland clearing, they are a major contributing source to climate change.
Reducing meat consumption and overall dependence on animal products could have a significant impact on the environment. Indeed, it is estimated that by 2050, “dietary changes could free up several million square kilometers of land, and reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by up to eight billion tons per year”.
Meat without animals, milk without cows
Innovative solutions have been found to perpetuate the movement towards sustainability. For instance, meat alternatives made from soybeans, quorn, and peas have been developed. Cow milk has found a number of contenders in the form of soy milk, almond milk, rice milk and oat milk. Although these alternatives to not fully replace their animal-sourced counterparts, they are sufficient for many common dishes and delicacies. Nevertheless, they have yet to be sufficiently adopted to diminish the severe effects caused by animal agriculture.
A new idea could be the solution to this problem; what if instead of finding alternatives to animal products, we found real replacements? Looking at cow milk for instance, what if we could replicate the exact formula of cow milk, without needing any cows whatsoever? This is the solution the startup Perfect Day has developed. What is the key to making cow milk? What makes cow milk unique?
The Key to Replication
The first step in recreating any recipe is knowing its ingredients; for cow milk, it is no different. Because milk is often already an ingredient and is not human made, we need to go one step deeper. What are the ingredients of an ingredient? Molecules. Indeed, what makes cow milk special is the special blend of unique molecules, in particular proteins, that cannot be found in plants. This is mainly because only cow cells have the recipe (genetic information) to make these proteins, while plant cells do not. However, by getting the necessary information from these cow cells, we can give other cells in laboratories the instructions they need to make the desired milk proteins. In this way, we can synthesize a product molecularly identical to its animal-made counterpart, without involving any animals at all!
To find out more about how this milk is made, visit Perfect Day’s website here: https://perfectdayfoods.com/.
Food & Focal Molography
You may still be wondering how a biosensor like focal molography could play any role in the food industry. Although its applications are perhaps not primarily directed to the food industry, they could be. Research and innovation in food often involves molecular analysis, and wherever molecular interactions are involved, focal molography could be as well.
As discussed in previous articles, one of Focal Molography’s big applications is quality control of drug products in pharmaceutical manufacturing. However, it could also be easily used to control critical quality attributes of other products, such as in the food industry. Such parameters could include: testing for presence of various contaminants (bacterial, viral, fungal), testing the molecular composition of products, which would be particularly relevant in engineered products, but also macromolecular composition, i.e. protein, fat, and carbohydrate content.
A more innovative way Molography could be implemented is during the developmental stages of a new product and its manufacturing, to help design and tailor the production process and the product itself. As mentioned above, the food industry is beginning to turn towards replacements for certain food items rather than alternatives; one of the key aspects of this change is understanding the molecular composition of the foods to replace, and the molecular processes with which these characteristics can be reproduced. Molography can provide invaluable information in this respect: similar to its use in drug product manufacturing, the main advantage of Molography in manufacturing contexts is its compatibility with unpurified samples and its rapid testing times. It is also highly customizable, which allows it to adhere to the specific needs of a manufacturer, and enables testing of a variety of different parameters simultaneously, without compromising on specificity.
Although its primary application is in the healthcare sector, Focal Molography has a very vast field of applications. In the future, it could potentially be used in other sectors, such as the food & beverage industry, that search for technologies with many of the same features as the biopharmaceutical industry.