Premier plant-based ingredient maker plays a major role in bringing to marketplace new bioactive ingredients produced by microbes.
Thanks to recent advancements in precision fermentation and gene editing technology like CRISPR, scientists are now able to produce complex organic molecules inside genetically programmed, single cell micro-organisms such as yeast, algae, and bacteria. This innovative biotechnology, known as precision fermentation, allows us to enhance and stabilize the planetary food supply by sustainably creating unlimited quantities and varieties of proteins, oils, starches, and other bioactive substances.
“With the world’s population projected to reach 10.4 billion by 2100 per UN estimates, precision fermentation represents a real solution for increasing food production, as well as for reducing environmental impact from farming and animal husbandry,” says Dr. Thushan S. Withana-Gamage, KeyLeaf’s Principal Scientist for Innovation and Technology. “With precision fermentation, you grow your food in a single-cell microorganism, which is a process that is very fast and requires minimal space. You can manipulate and modify your host microorganism by what you feed it to produce a variety of substances of commercial value: most often edible fats or proteins that are biologically and techno-functionally similar to animal and plant products. The precision fermentation process has important applications beyond the food and feed space, enabling the manufacture of high-value compounds for a variety of industries such as pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, biofuels, biopolymers, bioplastics, and others.”
Extraction & Downstream Refining - KeyLeaf’s Role in the Precision Fermentation Process
Using precision fermentation, biotechnology companies are now producing a variety of important molecules inside single-celled organisms. But producing the molecules is only half the challenge. To be of value, these molecules must be extracted from the cells unchanged and refined downstream. This is a task for which KeyLeaf’s scientists, with their decades of experience, are well qualified.
“To begin the extraction process, we open up the cell by breaking its walls,” says Dr. Withana-Gamage. “There are several methods we can use to accomplish this:”
• Mechanical disruption: crushing, grinding, milling such as bead-milling (smashing the cell with steel beads), and pressure homogenization (forcing the cells through a fine screen),
• Chemical disruption: cell membranes are dissolved using chemicals such as acid-based detergents.
• Heat-pressure disruption: melts the membrane
• Enzymatic disruption: enzymes can dissolve and disrupt the microbial cell wall causing the release of the cells’ contents.
After the cell walls are broken, the target compound needs to be extracted into a solvent, such as water or another solvent, such as ethanol. “KeyLeaf is one of the few facilities in North America that has special, pilot-scale solvent-rated extraction-capabilities. The area has extensive Class1, Division 1(C1D1) safety features for handling food grade solvents and it enables KeyLeaf to boast a unique specialty – the ability to reclaim and reuse the solvents we use during extraction. The reclaiming and reuse of solvents is good for the environment and good for cost reduction, and is a popular added benefit for clients,” says Dr. Withana-Gamage.
Once we extract a compound into a solvent or into water, the next step is to separate the solvent from the compound. At KeyLeaf, we have time-tested procedures and state-of-the-art biomass-solvent separation equipment to do the job.
Once the targeted compound is separated, it is in what’s called “crude” format - as either a crude protein or crude oil or any other crude bioactive compounds. For that crude protein or oil, we can perform additional processing to remove impurities to make it more usable for food and any other non-food applications. For example, a crude oil can be converted to a refined cooking oil after it’s filtered, refined, degummed, bleached, and deodorized. This results in an oil which looks like the canola vegetable oil we see at the grocery store, ready to be consumed. We can convert a crude format to a more refined format for both proteins and oils (and any other bioactive compounds). In addition to filtering and purification, oils, proteins, and other compounds can be further balanced and enriched during the downstream processing phase. Some of the downstream processing services available in KeyLeaf’s Batavia and Saskatoon facilities include:
• enrichment of bioactive compounds
About KeyLeaf and Precision Fermentation
For many in the plant-based food ingredients industry, KeyLeaf has held the role of extractor and downstream processor of post-fermented material. We’ve done this for many years, but now that precision fermentation is becoming increasingly talked about as a viable option for food production, we’re seeing an increasing number of requests for information about our downstream services from newly forming fermentation companies and other groups,” says Justin White, VP of Global Sales and Business Development.
“Having done it many times before, KeyLeaf has the patience and capability to work with new companies as they go through the start-up process,” says White. “We’re not only helpful in establishing bench top proof-of-concept, but we can also help conduct pilots, scale-up, and assist in early-stage contract manufacturing. For many companies, KeyLeaf has become a long-term solution.”
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