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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Fraser

Industry alliances refine ‘precision fermentation’ definition

The Precision Fermentation Alliance (PFA) and Food Fermentation Europe (FFE) have announced a refined definition of the term ‘precision fermentation’.

The newly refined definition, announced in a media release yesterday (26 February 2024) aims to provide clarity on precision fermentation’s unique characteristics and its differentiation from other technologies.

It defines precision fermentation as follows:

“Precision fermentation combines the process of traditional fermentation with the latest advances in biotechnology to efficiently produce a compound of interest, such as a protein, flavour molecule, vitamin, pigment or fat”.

The new definition then offers further detail on the process, how it works and how it has already been in use:

  • A specific molecular sequence is inserted into a microorganism to give it instructions to produce the desired molecule when fermented. These molecular sequences are derived from digitised databases rather than taken directly from the relevant animals or plants.

  • At the end of the fermentation process, the resulting compounds are filtered out, separating them from the microorganisms that produced them.

  • Precision fermentation has been in use globally for over 30 years to make medicines (like insulin) and countless common food ingredients (such as human milk oligosaccharides or rennet).

The PFA was established in 2023 and comprises industry members including Change Foods, The Every Co, #Imagindairy, #NewCulture, #OnegoBio and the #GoodFoodInstitute among others. The members’ common goal is to promote precision fermentation as a reliable solution for a more sustainable food system.

Irina Gerry, spokesperson for PFA, commented: “With so many new food technologies entering the market, we recognised the need to refine and expand the definition of precision fermentation to help educate consumers and food industry stakeholders”.

She added: “Our collaboration with FFE has resulted in a comprehensive definition that emphasises the distinctive features of precision fermentation and its applications, as well as draws clear boundaries between precision fermentation and other fermentation-based technologies”.

The refined definition includes several key distinctions. The PFA and FFE highlight that precision fermentation leverages the latest bioengineering techniques, setting it apart from traditional fermentation and natural breeding techniques.

Additionally, unlike cell cultivation, precision fermentation uses microorganisms to produce specific compounds of interest, rather than growing an entire cell or biomass. Molecular sequences used in precision fermentation are sourced from digitised databases, eliminating the need for animal involvement in any part of the process, whereas in cell-based meat, a sample of cells is taken from a live animal.

At the end of the fermentation process, the targeted molecules are isolated and filtered out from the fermentation broth, setting the process apart from biomass fermentation (where the entire biomass, including the cells, is the product).

It also emphasises that precision fermentation is an established technology. While it is now being used to produce new molecules, the process itself has been safely utilised in food and medicine for decades.

FFE represents the wider fermentation food and ingredient sector, made up of nine industry members: Better Dairy, Bon Vivant, Formo, Imagindairy, MicroHarvest, Onego Bio, Standing Ovation, Those Vegan Cowboys and Vivici. It works to raise awareness and enable the rollout of innovative fermentation technology and products in Europe.


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