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Aberystwyth University to develop sustainable microbial foods as part of £14 million project

March 12, 2024

Aberystwyth University scientists will help to develop sustainable microbial foods as part of a new £14 million (US$17.8 million) project.

Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) researchers at Aberystwyth will contribute to the work of the new Microbial Food Hub which has been funded as part of a £100 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) initiative to unlock the potential of engineering biology.

Microbial foods are produced by micro-organisms such as yeast and fungi through fermentation and offer a more sustainable and healthier alternative to some foods.

The first of its kind in the world, the Microbial Food Hub brings together academics, industrial partners, food organizations and consumers.

It aims to develop new fermented foods that are better for the environment, more resilient to climatic or political shocks, and healthier and tastier for consumers.    

The Hub will focus on fermented food products and ingredients, including growing fungal cells with high nutritional properties and producing ingredients using engineered microorganisms.

It will also research traditional fermentation methods, which use microbes to transform and improve the nutrition and taste of basic plant products.

“Microbes are ideal for food production because they grow rapidly, do not need large amounts of land or water, and can feed on surplus and co-product streams from our existing food industries," said Dr Dave Bryant, from the IBERS at Aberystwyth University. "The foods they produce are less susceptible to adverse weather and can be produced locally, reducing transport costs, carbon footprint and our dependence on imported food. So, this announcement has enormous potential to address global challenges and drive economic growth, resilience, and preparedness.”

“Engineering biology is already being used to optimise microbial food production, and microbes can now be manipulated to be more productive, tastier and more nutritious," added Professor Ledesma-Amaro from Imperial, who leads the project. "Applying recent scientific developments to microbial foods has the potential to radically change the way food is produced, creating an important and timely opportunity to address some of the most critical health and sustainability challenges of our time.”

The new mission hubs and awards projects are designed to play a key role in achieving the UK government’s vision for engineering biology announced last year.

“Engineering biology has the power to transform our health and environment, from developing life-saving medicines to protecting our environment and food supply and beyond," noted Andrew Griffith, UK Government Minister for Science, Research and Innovation announced funding for six new Engineering Biology Mission Hubs. “With new Hubs and Mission Awards spread across the country, from Edinburgh to Portsmouth, we are supporting ambitious researchers and innovators around the UK in pioneering groundbreaking new solutions which can transform how we live our lives, while growing our economy.”

The project will make use of the specialist research and development facilities at AberInnovation based at Aberystwyth University’s Gogerddan campus.

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