Various technologies have been used recently in alternative protein start-ups, to eradicate hunger, malnutrition, eliminate diseases, and control adverse changes in the food eating habits of developing nations.
Advanced technology is being used in the food industry to uplift start-up companies to meet production and processing challenges. The start-ups are focusing on resolving many problems, such as increasing demand for alternative meat protein or plant-based protein. Proteins are an essential part of our diets, but the way they are currently being produced affects the environment, animal welfare, and, human health.
Change in eating habits of people (e.g. shifting from non-vegetarian to vegetarian foods or replacing meat with plant-based meat) have led many start-ups to produce alternative protein using their unique, innovative technologies to feed the growing global population with healthy, sustainable, and affordable protein sources having the same nutritive value like that of animal protein. The technologies used by start-ups include upcycling of side-streams, fermentation process, tissue engineering, artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things (IoT), etc. Emerging start-ups are gaining momentum by focusing on applying advanced techniques for the development of natural, functional, nutritional food products.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been essential in unlocking new food opportunities. AI allows understanding of the molecular structure of various proteins and the chemical interactions that convert the raw material into part of a delicious meal. AI can utilize the collection of data from sensors and convert it to understandable information. It can mimic important functions such as learning and problem-solving and translate information more efficiently than humans, reducing their efforts. AI can be self-learning as well as it can progress beyond human abilities. AI can answer most of the questions, such as how protein reacts with other ingredients? How a small chemical change can impact the texture? AI can also speed the genome analysis and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), which can help quickly and flexibly peer into different animals’ DNA structures. The use of AI to advance food start-ups has been accelerating as the world progresses. Proprietary machine learning AI-based algorithms have successfully been used to create innovative plant-based recipes and compositions that are very similar to animal-based food products.
Five of the notable start-ups in the alternative protein segment that are disruptively using AI technology to produce nutritional and sustainable alternative protein products are listed below.
Protera (Santiago, Chile)
Protera manufactures protein-based ingredients by combining protein and food science expertise with advanced AI technology. The company produces safe, sustainable, and affordable protein-based food ingredients. The company has developed a unique process called Natural Intelligence to carefully make the ingredients.
The company’s Natural Intelligence process utilizes the predictive algorithm named MADI to recognize and reveal proteins. By using MADI, the company makes new protein-based ingredients faster and in a more affordable manner. This unlocks a revolution in human health, the environment, and the prevention of food waste. From avocados to olive oil to delicious tofu dishes, food and its ingredients are manufactured naturally by using biology. The MADI takes inspiration from biology itself and crafts functional protein ingredients. The company then produces these ingredients at scale using fermentation. The MADI is trained to understand the complex pattern connecting the amino acids sequence of a protein. MADI takes advantage of GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) computing, a process having an unpredictable speed that allows the model to analyze billions of proteins that exist in nature. The products of the company include protera guard, protera sense, anti-oxidant proteins. Protera is currently developing a new generation of foaming and emulsifying proteins. The company’s upcoming portfolio of ingredients will allow food manufacturers to replace existing emulsifiers such as eggs and lecithin in common foods.
Climax Foods (Berkeley, California)
Climax Foods is a data science company targeted at changing the food future. The company developed advanced machine intelligence tools to unlock smarter paths from plants to products.
The company is creating a new generation of plant-based foods. Climax Foods uses multiple machine learning frameworks that combine data sets to interpret a particular set of raw ingredients and isolate for their yield in terms of texture, flavor, cost, etc. Through such complex models, the company does a substantial amount of research before conducting laboratory work.
The company is tackling a similar opportunity to change the market and food system by using an entirely novel technological approach. The company is utilizing data science to make a new category of foods that will not merely compete with but out-compete animal products with regards to taste, nutritional density, and price. The machine intelligence approach the company is pioneering is critical for harnessing the vast number of ways of raw ingredients and natural processes that can be used to produce the ultimate digital recipes. The company has also invested $7.5M to tackle the plant-based cheese market.
Inari (Cambridge, Massachusetts, US)
The company aims to harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to understand the complexities of nature. Inari is a biotech company that is tapping into crop seed potential. The company started with crops having the largest footprint that is corn and soybeans.
Inari uses predictive design technology to transform seeds. It creates an editing blueprint through deep learning, machine learning, and multiplex gene editing toolkit, facilitating multiple edits across multiple genes that unlock the full potential through its SEEDesign platform. Inari broadened access to soybean genetics through collaboration with Mertec and MS technologies.
Also, Inari and Beck, the largest family-owned retail seed company, announced a strategic collaboration to accelerate farmer access to gene-editing innovation. Apart from soy and corn, Inari plans to explore more seeds using their technology. The products are produced while focusing on the world’s largest crop types, such as corn and soybean. The SEEDesign platform increases the efficiency of the product and the product yield is increased by +20% for corn and soybean. The developed seeds are revolutionary and are capable of reducing the agricultural footprint with a high production rate.
Nuritas (Dublin, Ireland)
Nuritas company combines artificial intelligence & peptidomics to discover bioactive peptides with exceptional health benefits. The company is a producer of bioactive peptides deliberated to extract peptides from a food source. Products include PeptiStrong, Peptiforce, and Peptiyouth.
The company’s disruptive computational approaches discovery uses artificial intelligence and genomics to rapidly and efficiently predict and then provide access to the health-benefiting components hidden within food, called bioactive peptides. The company’s artificial platform, along with wet labs, has been shaped and trained of proprietary experimental data and curated structured and unstructured data, which allows it to predict novel peptides in food and food by-products with targeted efficacy. Apart from this, the platform can also predict with high accuracy the chemical and physical characteristics of peptides that are needed to have clinical and commercial viability, like cell penetration or bioavailability. Nuritas announced the launch of its US operations & addition to the executive team. Also, in conjunction with PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe), they are using the proprietary AI platform to look for peptides that can be used to treat COVID-19.
Kernel Mycofoods (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Kernel Mycofoods is a biotech company making 100% animal-free ingredients made from Fusarium venenatum biomass (Fungus) using AI. The company uses big data and computer vision to improve fungi fermentation techniques. The products are GMO-free.
The company, through artificial intelligence and robotics, helps in automation experimentation, analysis, and optimization. Furthermore, the proprietary computer vision system can analyze images 20,000 times faster. The company refines the fungi fermentation techniques of existing and approved strains and improves their quality, sustainability, taste, and nutrition. Also, Kernel Mycofoods will collaborate with Ennolys to bring alternative protein to market within a year. The company’s products are 100% animal-free fungal base products having a balanced composition of proteins, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Kernel Mycofoods promises sustainable and cruelty-free protein solutions at very competitive prices.
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