Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Scientists are Encouraging Eating Lab-Grown Mold to Help the Environment

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Lab-grown meat has been hailed as a sustainable solution to protect the environment, but now researchers are taking it a step further by suggesting that people consider consuming mold as well. Scientists at the University of California (UC) – Berkeley are utilizing genetic engineering techniques to produce proteins and meat alternatives from genes found in koji mold, commonly used in the fermentation of sake, soy sauce, and miso.

Through their research, the team has successfully bioengineered mushrooms into a burger, which they then fry to resemble a traditional burger. This innovation marks just the beginning of their journey as they aim to further enhance the mold to manipulate the taste and texture of the final product, with the goal of creating a range of foods that cater to even the most discerning palates.

Chef turned bioengineer, Vayu Hill-Maini, is collaborating with the researchers to develop appetizing and nutritious food sources that benefit both consumers and the environment. By employing a gene editing system known as CRISPR-Cas9, Hill-Maini has been studying the fungus Aspergillus oryzae (koji mold) to enhance heme, an iron molecule responsible for the color and flavor of meat.

In addition to boosting the presence of heme, the team has also increased levels of an antioxidant called ergothioneine, known for its cardiovascular health benefits. This compound is utilized in medications to address various conditions like liver damage, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and heart disease. By modifying the genes and processes involved, the white mold turned red, and after additional steps, could be molded into a hamburger.

While the mold-based food products are not yet ready for consumption, the team plans to further modify the genes to enhance the texture of the mold, creating a more meat-like experience for consumers. By focusing on increasing fatty acids and improving the lipid composition, they aim to boost the nutritional value of the food source.

Despite potential concerns about environmental impact, the research team is optimistic about the potential of their mold-based foods. While some studies have suggested that lab-grown meat could have a negative impact on the environment, the researchers believe that by maximizing the efficiency of mold in converting carbon into complex molecules, they can contribute to a more sustainable culinary future.

As they continue to unlock the potential of koji mold through genetic tools, the team at UC Berkeley envisions a future where these organisms can be utilized to produce a variety of valuable products, including food, chemicals, biofuels, and medicines. This innovative approach to biomanufacturing paves the way for exciting possibilities in the realm of sustainable food production.

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