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发酵技术是食物科技的未来

   日期:2017-12-26     来源:《财富》    浏览:1762    评论:0    
核心提示:当你走进一家研究这种细胞农业技术的创业公司时,你首先会发现他们的实验室里弥漫着一股浓浓的发酵的味道。Clara公司的CEO阿图罗•埃利桑多解释道,酵母菌就像一座座小工厂,只要对它们进行“编程”,它们几乎能造出任何东西,而且它们对整个发酵过程至关重要。
  

 2015年,两位普林斯顿大学的博士生尼尔•奥佐诺夫和亚历山大•劳瑞斯塔尼申请到了旧金山的生物技术加速器项目IndieBio。他们的目标是设计一种能产生大量蛋白质的微生物,以满足一些特殊用途。他们当时认为,这种微生物或许能应用于制药科学,比如用来制造胰岛素等。

不过Indiebio加速的联合创始人莱恩•贝森科特却鼓励道,他们应该考虑如何将这种蛋白质作为一种产品应用于食品领域。

贝森科特解释道:“胰岛素已经不新鲜了,现在其他人也能做胰岛素,所以你必须转型。”那么他们转向了什么开创性的领域?答案是不含动物成分的明胶。明胶一般是用胶原蛋白制成的,而胶原蛋白一般来自猪、牛等动物的骨骼和皮肤等组织。他们选择的这个新方向,也令本身就是素食者的贝森科特兴奋不已。

生物科技这门科学原本是大型制药企业的专宠,主要用来生产一些高价值的商品——比如胰岛素等。但随着DNA测序等生物技术的相关成本大幅下降,生物科技的研究对象也越发多样化。同时生物燃料的兴起也进一步促进了行业经济的重新洗牌。几乎一夜之间,生物反应器等设备的价格已经不再高不可攀了。因此,生物科技也不再局限于制造高价格的药品,而是也可以制造食品这样的大宗产品。

奥佐诺夫和劳瑞斯塔尼最后创办了一家名叫Geltor的公司,它也是旧金山湾区少数采用发酵技术生产动物制品的创业公司之一。这家公司的创新性在于,他们生产的动物制品并不需要宰杀任何动物。另外,还有两家由IndieBio支持的创业公司Clara Foods和Perfect Day也在利用类似的技术生产蛋白和乳蛋白。他们的生产工艺中需要使用细胞,但他们的最终产品中却并没有细胞,这种产品也称为非细胞产品。(相比之下,Memphis Meat和MosaMeat等创业公司则主要研究细胞产品,也就是最终产品中包含细胞本身。)

当你走进一家研究这种细胞农业技术的创业公司时,你首先会发现他们的实验室里弥漫着一股浓浓的发酵的味道。Clara公司的CEO阿图罗•埃利桑多解释道,酵母菌就像一座座小工厂,只要对它们进行“编程”,它们几乎能造出任何东西,而且它们对整个发酵过程至关重要。

在这些实验室里,科学家会从基因上对酵母菌或细菌进行修改,然后用糖分喂养它们,使它们的分子结构变得与胶原蛋白(用来制作明胶)或是酷蛋白和乳清蛋白(用来制作奶酪)完全相同。在发酵过程的最后,这些蛋白质会从混合物中提纯出来。

最后的产品虽然用基因工程做出来的,但科学家并不认为它是一种转基因生物,因为科学家们会把所有转基因的酵母菌都清除掉。那么消费者会不会对此感到不适呢?对此,奥佐诺夫表示:“自然界生产胶原蛋白的方式其实要比这恶心得多。”

本文的另一版本载于2017年12月15日刊的《财富》杂志。

 

In 2015 Nick Ouzounov and Alexander Lorestani applied to the San ¬Francisco–based biotech accelerator IndieBio. The two Princeton Ph.D.s had an idea for a way to engineer a microbe that could build vast amounts of protein designed for specific functions. They envisioned that it could have biopharma applications, such as being used to produce insulin.

But Ryan Bethencourt, who cofounded the accelerator, instead encouraged them to focus on using the protein for a product in the food space.

“Insulin was an old play. There are other people who can make insulin,” Bethencourt explains. “You have to be transformative.” The groundbreaking idea that they went with? Animal-free gelatin, which in its regular form is derived from collagen—a material that is typically made from the bones, skin, and tissues of cows and pigs. The reaction from Bethencourt, who is himself a vegan: “Brilliant.”

Biotech was once a tool reserved for pharmaceutical giants making high-value goods—just like insulin. But there’s a shift that’s taken place as biotech’s associated costs, such as DNA sequencing, have plummeted. The biofuel bust has helped further reshuffle the economics of the industry. All of a sudden bioreactors and other equipment have become available for cheap. The result is that biotech is no longer reserved just for producing high-priced medicine but could start to make sense for commodity products like food.

Ouzounov and Lorestani ended up cofounding Geltor, one of a handful of Bay Area startups using a biotech process called fermentation to make animal products. The transformative part is they don’t need the animals to do it. Fellow IndieBio-backed startups Clara Foods and Perfect Day are using the method to make egg whites and milk proteins, respectively. They use cells as part of their production method but there are no cells in the end result—what’s called an acellular product. (In contrast, startups Memphis Meats and MosaMeat are working on cellular products, in which the end result contains the cells themselves.)

One obvious tell that you are visiting a startup working on this form of cellular agriculture is the yeasty smell that hits you as you walk into one of their labs. Yeast are like little factories, explains Clara CEO Arturo Elizondo. They can be programmed to make essentially anything and are critical to fermentation.

In these labs scientists genetically modify yeast or bacteria and feed them sugars to produce a protein that’s molecularly identical to collagen (in the case of gelatin) or casein and whey (for cheese). At the end of the process that protein is purified out of the mixture.

The end result is made using genetic engineering, but is not considered a genetically modified organism since scientists remove the altered yeast. Will consumers be freaked out by the process? “The natural way of making gelatin is much more disturbing,” says Ouzounov.

A version of this post appears as a sidebar in the article “Silicon Valley and the Search for Meatless Meat” in the Dec. 15, 2017 issue of Fortune.

 
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