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Food from microbes - new boom in biotechnology

While the rapid development of biotech in pharma has yielded numerous innovations during the past decade, the following biotech boom seems to be brewing in the food industry. It has been a pleasure to see many promising and exciting innovations in recent years coming to market or reaching pre-commercial scale, even here in Finland. The food industry, blending the vast opportunities of biotech with sustainability, is led by startups that are not only challenging traditional food production methods but also offering solutions that could revolutionize the way we think about food. What they all have in common is the overall aim to make food production more efficient and sustainable, reducing the need for agricultural land, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions as well as enhancing the nutritional content.

Here is a brief introduction to four Finnish startups that are paving the way for microbially produced food of the future: Solar Foods, Enifer, OnegoBio, and BioMush, each of them contributing in their own unique way to this pioneering field.

  1. Solar Foods – producing protein from thin air 

Even in the ever changing food industry, Solar Foods stands out with its groundbreaking solution to food production — creating microbial protein from air. The company

produces a protein-rich powder known as Solein, which is made using renewable electricity, water, carbon dioxide, nutrients and vitamins. The process is independent of weather conditions, agricultural land and freshwater, offering a sustainable and scalable solution to global protein needs. In spring 2024, Solar Foods will open its first commercial-scale factory in Vantaa, Finland, increasing its production capacity to 120 tonnes per year.

Image: Solar Foods

  1. BioMush – from edible side streams to delicate flavours

One of the most exciting newcomers in food biotech is BioMush, previously known as the Nordic Umami Company. It develops fermentation technology for converting food industry side streams into delicious clean label flavor ingredients. The term "clean label" in the food industry refers to products made with minimal, easily recognizable ingredients free from artificial additives and preservatives.These mouth-watering products are already produced in Espoo, Finland, and used by food factories and restaurants.

"We are really excited about the potential of our technology. There is some serious demand for clean label flavours and food companies are very interested in the closed loop solution we can offer", says Outi Mäkinen, CTO at BioMush

Image: BioMush

  1. Enifer – adapting old methods to meet new challenges

Another company revolutionizing the food industry, Enifer, is revisiting and refining a forgotten Finnish innovation from the 1970s — the PEKILO process. Originally used to produce single-cell protein from paper mill waste, Enifer has adapted this technology to utilize modern industrial side streams, turning them into high-protein feed for aquaculture. This not only enables waste recycling, but also significantly reduces the environmental footprint compared to traditional fishmeal production, providing a sustainable and cost-effective alternative. 

Enifer recently secured a 12 million euro funding for their production facility to be built in Southern Finland.

  1. Onego Bio – Egg white without Chicken

Onego Bio operates on the frontier of synthetic biology and uses the traditional method of precision fermentation to create non-animal derived proteins. They have re-engineered a filamentous fungi, Thricoderma Reesei, to produce high-quality egg white protein that can seamlessly replace its animal-based counterpart in various food products. The company has recently raised 40 million euros in their series A funding to fuel their North American go-to-market strategy.

Image: Onego Bio

Regulation and the EU

While the innovation environment is flourishing, the regulatory landscape for novel foods in Europe poses a significant challenge for innovators. In the European Union, the process to approve a novel food can be painstakingly slow, often taking several years. This expensive, rigorous and time-consuming procedure involves multiple stages of scientific evaluation and risk assessment to ensure consumer safety, aligning with stringent EU food safety standards. In contrast, Singapore has established a more streamlined and expedited regulatory pathway that encourages innovation in the food tech sector. The disparity in regulatory speeds can potentially stifle innovation in Europe, as startups may struggle with the prolonged uncertainty and financial burdens of the approval process.

Despite these regulatory hurdles, the future of food technology looks bright. With perseverance and innovative thinking, hopefully European startups can overcome these challenges, meeting targets for circularity and carbon neutrality. This would pave the way for a new era of sustainable and nutritious food production. The synergy between science, technology, and sustainability promises a hopeful future where food from microbes could become a mainstream solution, revolutionizing global food systems for the better. Moreover, these new food tech companies can significantly contribute to the overall targets of the EU for a circular economy, enhancing resource efficiency and reducing environmental impact.


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