Biomass Fermentation vs Precision Fermentation

Fermentation has been around for as long as humans have been on earth, if not much, much longer. And while we only recently in human history discovered what the actual process of fermentation entails, we have wasted no time in commercializing the process. We have wasted even less time utilizing fermentation to meet the increasing demand of humans in the food sectors. Enter the discussion around biomass fermentation vs precision fermentation. What are these two new technologies and how do they affect us?

What Is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural process that occurs when living organisms transform the chemical makeup of another organism. In human biology, our cells undergo anaerobic fermentation when we run out of oxygen while exercising. Under normal circumstances, we breathe in and out, and the oxygen provides resources to our cells to convert carbohydrates to ATP, the energy cells. But when we begin breathing fast, that process cannot keep up with us, so fermentation kicks in.

Human biology is just one example of fermentation, and not even the most common one.

Traditional Fermentation

Our most common understanding of fermentation lies in the production of some of our favorite foods and beverages. Yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, beer, and wine all undergo fermentation. When it comes to the fermentation of our favorite foods, traditional fermentation calls for yeast and bacteria to feed on the fermentable sugars in foods like milk, cucumbers, grains, or grapes. The yeast and bacteria are naturally attracted to those sugars, which is why it is commonly believed that traditional fermentation likely existed long before humans entered the scene.

Indeed, we probably witnessed fermentation in action, perhaps because a barrel of grapes fermented and produced wine before we realized what was happening. Perhaps someone left oatmeal or a barley-meal out for too long and found it had fermented into beer. Another person likely left cow’s milk out for too long and discovered yogurt. The truth is probably that all of these events could have taken place, and over time humans simply began working with nature to encourage fermentation and craft better beer, wine, yogurt, and more over time.

What many people still today do not realize is that fermentation improves the state of food, adding probiotics, vitamins, nutrients, and even protein to the process. It is this last ingredient that has stood out to biologists and other microbiologists eager to solve the problem of world hunger as the global population rises and food becomes less available.

Biomass Fermentation

Biomass fermentation is an immediate and obvious response to the problem of world hunger. Even as companies have found ways to add nutrients to genetically modified rice for the starving people in India and China, one of the primary nutrients still lacking in starved nations is protein. It is a huge problem as it can lead to major illnesses and premature death, even if people have enough to eat.

Finding a way to access enough protein for the human body in the absence of animal meat has always been an issue for vegans and vegetarians. Striking the right balance of plant-based proteins is essential to preventing common problems among that population like low energy, inability to focus, mental health problems, and more serious problems like organ failure.

Biomass fermentation seems to be providing the solution to those problems.

Biomass fermentation occurs when naturally occurring microorganisms are fed a diet of their primary food source, carbon dioxide for example, and then are allowed to multiply at rapidly increasing rates, producing the material with which to create alternative meats and dairy. The multiplied microorganisms are then the “biomass” in the name. This process takes only a fraction of the time it takes to raise and feed an animal like a cow, chicken, or pig for protein. Biomass protein develops in a matter of hours and days rather than months and years.

Biomass is an all-natural way to create more alternative proteins safe for humans and other animals to consume and the process can be scaled to greater heights given enough factory space. Again, biomass fermentation takes up only a fraction of the space it takes to raise livestock.

Biomass can also utilize waste byproducts of other organic processes, like for example, brewing, and create something new and useful to the human population through this innovative approach to fermentation.

Thus, biomass fermentation is considered environmentally friendly and a way for humans and animals to have their protein needs met without the fear of the downsides like high cholesterol, antibiotics, and hormones that we must consider when eating animal meat.

Precision Fermentation

Precision fermentation, in contrast, is a genetically modified process. Scientists alter the genes of a chosen microorganism to ferment according to a specific, predetermined design. The microorganisms are programmed to provide a specific outcome. The insulin used for diabetics is just one example of the result of precision fermentation.

We also see precision fermentation in the production of vitamins, enzymes, flavors, and the ingredients that make up some of the most well-known alternative meats, like the Impossible Burger.

The primary goal of precision fermentation as it stands seems to be to replicate the sensory experience humans get from eating animal products. It has thus far been able to reproduce the smell, texture, and even “bleed” of red meat.

The only question now is what the long-term effects of consuming massive amounts of genetically modified alternate protein products will be on the human biology.

Applications and the Future

While both biomass fermentation and precision fermentation still have a long way to go, we are already seeing many of their applications on the market today in the form of human food, vitamins and supplements, and pet food.

The greatest outcome for biomass fermentation has been its ability to use waste products in efficient, all-natural ways and meet an already existing need. It is also a slightly older process than precision fermentation. Precision fermentation has, some argue, a long way to go in terms of proving itself safe for human consumption and its ability to provide a long-term solution to future needs. But the scientific world is excited about the current implications.

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