Industrial-scale production of protein-rich food additives based on anaerobic fermentation is slated to begin later this year at a former bioethanol site in Minnesota. The facility will use a fermentation process developed by White Dog Labs (WDL; Newark, Del.; www.whitedoglabs.com) that involves microbial species found in the human gut microbiome.
The company employs a set of bacterial screening approaches designed to select not only for the production of specific metabolites, but also simultaneously for cell composition — specifically for high protein concentration. The anaerobic fermentation of sugars at the Minnesota site will be operated to produce protein-rich biomass that will be used as additives for human food and animal feed. Variations of the process can also produce metabolites (such as vitamins and short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and acetate) from sugars, and can be set up for gas fermentation.
“Current fermentation processes harvest metabolites generated by microbes, but we are also simultaneously maximizing the value of the biomass,” says Bryan Tracy, CEO of WDL. This is done by focusing on microbes capable of producing high levels of protein and then using the microbes themselves as a protein source with a desirable amino acid profile, Tracy explains.
“We have an array of bacterial selection approaches that can ‘tweeze out’ microbiome-derived bacteria species that have the properties that we are looking for, including fast growth rate, metabolite production and amino acid profile, and also those that could not be grown under standard laboratory conditions,” Tracy adds.
The company is targeting microbe strains from the human microbiome that would not ordinarily grow under standard laboratory conditions. “We are mimicking more closely the native gut microbiome environment to expand populations of species you wouldn’t find in the laboratory, including the gut microbiome of humans, chickens, cow and others,” Tracy says.
An advantage of anaerobic (without oxygen) fermentation processes is that the management of oxygen content is not necessary, so larger fermentation tanks can be used because you don’t have to worry about introducing O2, Tracy notes.