FGen, a Ginkgo Bioworks subsidiary based in Switzerland, has been awarded funding through the European Innovation Council's (EIC) ‘Pathfinder Challenge’ programme.
The project is part of an international research consortium that aims to develop a new, sustainable approach to milk protein production using only carbon dioxide and electricity.
The consortium, led by Finnish food-tech company Solar Foods, will receive €5.5 million over four years for the "high-risk/high reward" project named Hydrocow. The Hydrocow project was first announced in September last year.
The Hydrocow team will work to genetically engineer hydrogen oxidising bacteria (HOB) to convert carbon from CO2 gas and nitrogen from N2 into beta-lactoglobulin, a whey protein found in cow's milk.
Beta-lactoglobulin is used in various food applications, from infant formula and protein supplements to baked goods.
Engineered microbes capable of producing beta-lactoglobulin will undergo ultra-high throughput testing at FGen, leveraging its technology that can rapidly search through up to 1 million HOB variants in a single run. The highest performing HOB strains identified by FGen will then be validated by Solar Foods under autotrophic growth conditions in an industrially relevant bioproduction environment.
Andreas Meyer, senior foundry lead at Ginkgo Bioworks and co-founder of FGen, said: "We built our platform to help innovative companies like Solar Foods enable sustainable nutrition solutions, including alternative dairy. We're excited to leverage our powerful screening technology through FGen, and to play a critical role in this space for our commercial and government partners around the world. This project is built around a world-class team of research and development partners, and we're proud to do our part to bring this promising technology forward."
EIC programme manager Francesco Matteucci added: "EIC is supporting scientific innovation through our portfolio approach for funding research projects under the ‘Pathfinder Challenge’...Bringing precision fermentation for sustainable food ingredients from the lab to the market is considered critical for the achievement of the EU Green Deal. Success in this area can provide the technological basis to contribute to a sustainable development of our society."
If successful, the Hydrocow project will enable novel nutrition-focused bioproduction methods that are not reliant on photosynthesis and conventional agriculture, instead converting atmospheric carbon directly into whey proteins, while saving time, energy, and land associated with current practices in the process.