Cyanobacteria as a Surrogate Mother for “Meat-like” Proteins

 Seagriculture EU 2024
Cyanobacteria

Researchers have shown that cyanobacteria can serve as host organisms for a new “meat-like” protein. iStockphoto: Elif Bayraktar

Many researchers around the world are working to develop protein-rich texture enhancers for plant-based foods. However, many of these require a significant amount of processing, as the seeds need to be ground up and the protein extracted from them, to achieve high enough protein concentrations. Enter cyanobacteria.

In a new study, Poul Erik Jensen, who heads a research group specializing in plant-based food and plant biochemistry, along with fellow researchers from the University of Copenhagen among other institutions, have shown that cyanobacteria can serve as host organisms for a new protein by inserting foreign genes into a cyanobacterium. Within the cyanobacterium, the protein organizes itself as tiny threads or nanofibers.

“If we can utilize the entire cyanobacterium in foodstuffs, and not just the protein fibers, it will minimize the amount of processing needed,” says Jensen. “In food research, we seek to avoid too much processing as it compromises the nutritional value of an ingredient and also uses an awful lot of energy,”

The researchers have not only succeeded in using blue-green algae as a surrogate mother for a new protein – they have even coaxed the microalgae to produce “meat fiber-like” protein strands. The achievement may be a key to sustainable foods that have both the “right” texture and require minimal processing.

“Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are living organisms that we have been able to get to produce a protein that they don’t naturally produce,” says Jensen. “The particularly exciting thing here is that the protein is formed in fibrous strands which somewhat resemble meat fibers. And it might be possible to use these fibers in plant-based meat, cheese, or some other new type of food for which we are after a particular texture.”

The researchers behind the study are Julie A. Z. Zedler, Alexandra M Schirmacher, David A Russo and Paul Verkade of Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena; Lorna Hodgson of the University of Bristol; Stefanie Frank from University College London; Emil Gundersen and Annemarie Matthes from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, as well as Poul Erik Jensen from the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen.  

The research article about the study has been published in the journal ACS Nano: Self-Assembly of Nanofilaments in Cyanobacteria for Protein Co-localization | ACS Nano. This research is supported by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, The Humboldt Foundation, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Novo Nordisk Foundation, and the Carlsberg Foundation.

All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint articles in their entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact david@algaeplanet.com. Algae Planet accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

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