From Bio Journal - February 2022

Will 2022 be the year when new applied biotech foods sweep the world?

Biotechnology is expected to find applications in many fields in 2022. Food is at the center of this trend, and it is likely that new types of food, produced by "foodtech," centering on genome-editing technology, will dominate the market.

Genome-edited foods such as tomatoes, red sea bream and pufferfish were marketed one after the other in 2021, and it is possible that this trend will accelerate. The first example was the mackerel developed by Kyushu University, which is easier to cultivate due to a reduction in aggressiveness. The fish have already been hatched and there are plans this year to evaluate the fish to see if it can be used as human food. The experimental shrimp developed by Regional Fish Co. also seems to be getting seriously underway, and tomatoes with a high sugar content, developed by Nagoya University and other institutions, may also begin to move toward practical use.

One further development in the food field, is insect food. In 2021, cricket powders were commercialized one after another in Japan, and foods using silkworms also started to appear. In Europe, the approval in June 2021 of the mealworm (larva of the yellow mealworm beetle) has led to a movement toward commercialization, and insect eating has become a global movement. In Japan, there are initiatives using crickets, mainly as raw materials. Enterprises promoting the production of crickets as foodstuffs include Ecology Co. (Tokyo) and Odd Future Co. (Tokyo). The Tokyo-based Takeo Co., Ltd. is working on the development of an insect diet with regional characteristics by using crickets from various prefectures and silkworm pupae from Yamanashi Prefecture. Erie Co. (Tokyo) also uses silkworm pupae as its raw material. One company to watch is Gryllus, a venture company from Tokushima University, which is developing a cricket that has been genome-edited to accelerate growth.

In addition, the development of food by cell culture is progressing, and this year looks like being the year of its practical application. There has been a series of announcements from major food manufacturers such as Nissin Food Products Co., Ltd. Marudai Food Co., Ltd., Nippon Ham Co., Ltd., and Itoham Foods Inc., that they will enter the field, and will make strong efforts to develop cultured steak meat. Diverse Farm Co., a venture company established by Tissue By Net, a venture company engaged in regenerative medicine, and the head chef of Unkaku, a kaiseki restaurant in Osaka, is also drawing attention. Research organizations such as the Cellular Agriculture Research Association, the Cellular Agriculture Institute of the Commons and the Society for Cultured-Food Engineering have been established to encourage practical application of cell-culture food.

Impossible Foods, a leading US company in this field, has the know-how to make heme molecules, iron-containing blood pigment produced by yeast, to add meatiness, a weakness of cultured meat, to the taste and nutrition. The company has thus far focused on the U.S. and Hong Kong, but has now applied to Australia and New Zealand to market their products in those countries.

Genome editing and development moves forward with Euglena

Euglena, a venture company from the University of Tokyo, is developing genome-edited microalgae euglena. The company has already developed food using euglena on Ishigaki Island and is developing a euglena malt in cooperation with Akita Konno Shoten in Akita Prefecture. Further, last year, the company began testing a genome-edited euglena for jet fuel cultured in an outdoor pond. The experiment is being conducted using the national budgets of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), the Ministry of the Environment, and the Cabinet Office.

Increasingly active biomass production of chemical products

Using biomass to produce fuels and chemical products is progressing globally as economies shift toward decarbonization. Leading the way is Finland's Neste, which has a base in Singapore that produces bio-naphtha and bio-aviation fuel. Mitsui Chemicals and LG Chem of South Korea have begun to import bio-naphtha from the company. Arkema of France has also established biomass chemical production systems in Singapore and China. Brazil's Braskem also plans large-scale bioethylene production in Thailand. China and India are also building large-scale biomass chemical production systems. Currently, castor oil beans, a non-edible plant, are the most commonly used feedstock for biomass chemicals, with major production sites in India, China, and Brazil. India's Jayant Agro-Organics is working to secure castor oil beans as a feedstock. In order to increase the production of biomass chemical products, GM and genome editing technologies are being actively used to modify the bean as decarbonization pushes biotechnology into further increases in its competitiveness.

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(English Index)