Proteins and the future of food

Future Congress 2023

By: Francia Navarrete

The palm tree needs 300 liters of water daily every year, and if we go to the example of beef, 1kg of meat requires 15; this will not be sustainable in the short or medium term, as the agricultural and livestock industry occupies 50% of the habitable land on the planet. If we analyze the water consumption, 70% of drinking water consumption on the earth goes to these industries, followed by 20% of industrial activities, and 10% of domestic consumption, i.e., what we do in the houses. All of this means that our savings would not be insignificant compared to what we can achieve if we begin to attack the problem of water consumption in agricultural and livestock industries.

In 2015 I founded protera because I had this great conviction to address this significant problem through biotechnology and synthetic biology. We are in a crucial moment where technologies have been generated that will help us better understand how nature has developed life and how we can use that knowledge to build solutions that can answer the challenges our society is facing.

If we want to understand biology, we need to understand proteins because they are the machinery of life. We know proteins by their nutritional contribution to the human diet, but they are much more than that. Proteins are highly functional; they can be: Biomaterials; structures such as hair, nails, and spider webs are all proteins and a myriad of materials that we can develop; they can also be catalytic, which means that they can carry out a chemical reaction that we need for our metabolism, at the cellular level; they are also the antibodies that carry out critical functions in our immune response.

So, if life has already generated such an efficient way of carrying out processes, it is logical that we can use it for our benefit. We can develop entire products and solutions around proteins. 

Proteins are also sustainable because their manufacture is based on fermentation, which has between 40% and 90% less carbon footprint than a conventional industry. Finally something they are virtually infinite; there are billions of different proteins, and in theory, we could find or develop proteins for any challenge we are facing.

Such a vast number, however, makes them very complex to turn into products: how to choose the right one we need, how to use them, the one that has the functionality and can behave the way I need in the final application? 

That is where we come in with protera; we created an artificial intelligence algorithm that can understand at a fundamental level how these various proteins developed in evolution to specialize them in each activity. We take all the available databases built from years of global research, and we train our models to learn and find those patterns. 

Today our platform, which we call madi, is capable of predicting before going to the laboratory how a protein will behave, its function, stability, and solubility, all of which are fundamental elements for production, and with it, we can start creating new products.

We already have used this approach for our first protein ingredient, protera guard, and hope to launch it in the next few years. Using Madi, we can hack biology to be able to face all these challenges that we face today because, using this tool, we will be able to emulate the evolution that nature made for millions of years in hours on a computer. We will be able to develop products that are more efficient in terms of the use of natural resources, we will be able to have better distribution because bio-manufacturing based on fermentation does not depend on a geographical location or a season of the year. It is replicable and can be used anywhere in the world.

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