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Using digital milli-fluidic technology for food applications

Article-Using digital milli-fluidic technology for food applications

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Technology that accelerates and directs the natural evolutionary processes of microbial consortia can create stable ecosystems at scale. This could be of huge benefit to manufacturers of products such as bread, wine, beer, cheese, and yoghurt.

Startup Revobiom is all about bringing the power and complexity of microbiome consortia to the market - at scale, at pace, and at low cost. At the heart of the business is an innovative technology resulting from years of fundamental research - the Microbial Evolution Machine (MEM).

This enables the emergence, by natural evolution, of stable and effective interactions within microbial communities. “Our machine doesn’t do anything different to nature – it just speeds up Darwinian evolution,” explains Thomas Bibette, CEO and co-founder of the company.

The firm’s technology was recognised at last year’s Fi Europe Startup Innovation Challenge. The company was a finalist in the Innovative Processing Technology or Technology Platform category, highlighting the potential that many jurors saw in the company’s MEM.  

New innovations in digital milli-fluidics

Revobiom’s MEM is based on digital milli-fluidics, which works on the basis of ‘droplet trains.’ These are a succession of droplets and gas bubbles, carried by oil. Each drop, a bioreactor, allows the cultivation of a microbial cocktail in a homogeneous and independent way.

“What we do with milli-fluidics is effectively miniaturise hundreds of bioreactors into this droplet train,” says Bibette. “Each droplet is completely isolated by fluid physics.”

The numerous optical sensors present in the MEM make it possible to evaluate the performance of each drop, identified and traced over time. From this performance analysis, Revobiom, in collaboration with the customer, can choose the most optimal microbial cocktails to keep.

“Once we [have] successfully stabilised consortia, we need to scale it up to industrial levels,” says Bibette. “We develop a scale-up protocol closely with the customer. This is currently being done now, with promising results.”

Cutting-edge research, from lab to market

The origins of Revobiom date back two decades, to some of the cutting-edge research that was carried out by the Laboratory of Colloids and Divided Materials at the ESPCI, a Parisian engineering school considered to be a global pioneer in milli-fluidics. “The lab made a simple observation,” says Bibette. “That is, that all microbial solutions developed by nature are based on their interactions.”

An entrepreneurial ecosystem was developed within the lab, leading to the creation, over the years, of various startups focused on milli- and micro-fluidic technologies. Many of these startups developed technologies to imitate the natural processes of Darwinian evolution.

In this spirit, Revobiom was launched in 2022, on the back of technology designed and developed in partnership with the laboratory. Proof of concept was carried out in collaboration with INRAE, a French public research institute specialised in agricultural sciences, on the subject of molecule degradation of a common pesticide in soils.

Innovative applications for food manufacturers

Since the company was launched, Revobiom has been delivering high throughput screening through the hundreds of bioreactors contained in the MEM, co-evolving single strains of interest into natural consortia, and boosting single strains.

All this could be of huge interest to food manufacturers interested in improving their manufacturing processes with more complex consortia, but perhaps face issues such as stability problems.

“We can stabilise and streamline lab-formulated microbiome, and also explore the possibilities of combining high-potential strains,” says Bibette. “This could improve the natural and long-lasting preservation of food products, as well as lead to the formulation of foods and beverages with superior nutritional and organoleptic properties.”

More possibilities in food production are being examined. Revobiom currently has three customers in this innovation space, with several ongoing industrial-scale projects.

“We are part of the ‘France 2030’ programme and received a significant subsidy in recognition of us being a spin-off from a lab, as well as a strategic technology,” says Bibette. “We are currently raising our seed round and are also currently building a machine with the French subsidy to specifically process anaerobic bacteria.”