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Using Plants as Bioreactors to Revolutionize Protein Production
The growing promise of molecular farming
Molecular farming is a technology that involves engineering plants to produce desired ingredients such as proteins. This approach to protein production has been gaining traction in recent years with several companies emerging in the space in the past few years.
Recombinant protein technology is the underlying technology used in molecular farming. Recombinant protein is the production of proteins from the expression of recombinant DNA, which combines DNA from at least two sources. Cells can be programmed to become cell factories and produce specific proteins. With molecular farming, plants act as single-use bioreactors.
Molecular farming involves growing plants while using them as single-use bioreactors. As usual, the plants convert sunlight, CO2, and water into nutrients, which are then used by the cells to produce the desired recombinant protein. Once the protein is produced, it must be retrieved by harvesting and processing the crop through downstream processing steps.
Companies working on molecular farming
A plant-based alternative protein and molecular farming technology company that is developing future dairy foods and ingredients. The company is breeding and engineering plant crops to turn their cells into dairy proteins using energy from the sun. Miruku modifies plant cells to produce dairy proteins, sugars, and fats as though they were tiny cellular factories
The Los Angeles-based startup produces cheese made from the proteins found in cow’s milk using plants instead of cows. By engineering plants to make better cheese, they are on a mission to create plant-based cheese that is indistinguishable from animal-based cheese in terms of taste and texture.
The Manchester-based company uses genetic engineering of plants to produce high-value proteins for a wide range of applications, including R&D, therapeutic, cosmeceutical, agri-food, and industrial purposes. They have developed a proprietary light-driven protein expression technology that uses chloroplasts (plant organelle that is responsible for photosynthesis) to make high yields of proteins in plants.
They create cheese and other dairy products from plant-derived dairy proteins. The company aims to provide animal-free cheese that melts and is affordable for the majority of people who are unwilling to compromise on taste and price.
A plant biotechnology company that develops and manufactures high-quality recombinant proteins in bioengineered barley plants. The company uses barley grain as a vehicle for producing human and animal growth factors.
Benefits of molecular farming
Molecular farming offers a more cost-effective approach to producing proteins and other molecules compared to traditional methods such as mammalian cell culture or microbial fermentation. Growing plants in an open field offer a cheaper alternative to building large-scale manufacturing infrastructure that’s required for mammalian cell culture or precision fermentation.
Growing plants in large quantities is a feasible option for the large-scale production of proteins and other ingredients, as it can be easily scaled up to meet the required demand. This makes molecular farming an appealing choice for those seeking to produce significant quantities of these substances.
Molecular farming is an incredibly adaptable approach as it allows for the genetic engineering of plants to generate an array of proteins and other compounds. This opens up many opportunities to produce a variety of products, including vaccines, antibodies, therapeutic proteins, and meat alternatives.
Molecular farming presents a sustainable method for protein production, as it requires fewer resources and generates fewer waste byproducts in contrast to conventional production techniques, thereby promoting environmental friendliness. This makes it a viable option for the sustainable production of food and pharmaceuticals, and it has significant implications for global food security.