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Open-access research fuels innovations in novel food development

Article-Open-access research fuels innovations in novel food development

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Major innovations in the cultivated meat and seafood, fermentation, and plant-based categories are changing the food industry. The Good Food Institute (GFI) tell us about the biggest trends in open-access research in Europe today – and the areas that most urgently need more funding and attention.

David Hunt, research support manager at GFI Europe, told FI Global Insights about the biggest trends in open-access research in Europe today, which was also a focus in the non-profit and think tank's 2023 State of the Industry report.

While much innovation in the novel foods space is taking place in the private sector, there is a continuous need for more open-access research to democratise knowledge and pave the way for affordable and better-tasting alternative proteins and fats. Thankfully, there has been a strong uptick in support from the public sector in recent years.

Funding across Europe

Notable government plans and strategies include a €60 million commitment towards cellular agriculture from the Dutch government; £15.6 million in UK funding for alternative protein research; a Danish plant-based national action plan; more than €30 million in German funding for the protein transition; and €19 million in alternative protein research and development from the Catalan government in Spain. These rising public investments have spawned high-impact research collaboration across Europe.

“In the UK, the £12 million CARMA (Cellular Agriculture Manufacturing Hub) research centre is focused on commercialising cultivated meat and precision fermentation, while the recently announced Microbial Food Hub based at Imperial College London will explore methods of using fermentation including developing ingredients capable of producing the flavours and textures of animal products,” said Hunt.

“The Centro de innovación en Proteínas Alternativas (CiPA) in Catalunya, Spain, works in areas including plant-based and fermentation-made proteins, while Denmark’s CellFood Hub is seeking to expand the country’s fledgeling cultivated meat sector.

“Meanwhile, the Plant2Food project is enabling companies to participate in open-access research to address major shared R&D barriers for developing delicious and accessible plant-based foods.”

Open access tools for researchers

GFI also offers critical tools to alternative protein researchers, including databases and publications where they can find collaborators, access relevant research infrastructure, and work on the biggest technical bottlenecks. And Hunt says GFI research grants to alternative protein researchers have yielded important breakthroughs.

He added: “Researchers funded by the programme have made important contributions in areas ranging from developing cell lines for cultivated seafood to developing better flavours using fermentation and helping improve plant-based meat and dairy made using pea proteins.”

As in many emerging fields, much of the research in the fermentation, cultivated, and plant-based meat spaces is driven by startups and other companies that tend to closely guard their findings, as their IP is their most valuable asset. This can complicate the mission of making research findings available to everyone – leaving an important role for governments to ensure production can be scaled and prices can come down.  

“Startups across Europe have made incredible progress in developing alternative proteins, but governments need to fund open-access research into how production can scale so that prices can come down – just as they’ve invested in the development of renewable energy and global health initiatives,” said Hunt.

“We call for greater public investment to tackle the fundamental scientific bottlenecks in alternative protein research and for that research to be shared openly within the scientific community.”

What are the scientific bottlenecks?

These scientific bottlenecks are present across the alternative protein sector, where research is urgently needed to develop better plant-based meat, fermented food, and cultivated meat.

“For plant-based meat, this includes developing better raw materials through crop breeding, expanding the use of underutilised crops for higher protein yields and functionality, and improving processes to help develop higher-quality ingredients with a lower degree of processing,” said Hunt.

“To develop better foods using fermentation, researchers need to find a wider range of materials used to feed the microbes – leveraging existing agricultural and food processing waste streams to cut costs and improve sustainability. And for cultivated meat, we need to improve the quality of cell lines, reduce the cost of cell culture media – the nutrient-rich soup in which the cells grow – develop better and more efficient cultivators, and improve scaffolds that can enable products to replicate the complex texture of conventional meat.”

Reflecting on the most important lessons learned in terms of effective ways to stimulate new research, he highlighted the value of collaboration across boundaries and between public and private sectors.

“Funding initiatives like research centres of excellence, collaboration networks, and large international projects, such as Horizon Europe, can have a much higher impact, as these structures bring together researchers from different backgrounds who can collectively solve bigger challenges than they would otherwise be able to alone,” he said.


“Stimulating public-private partnerships is also key to delivering impact at scale as it allows industry and academia to work hand-in-hand to solve challenges around upscaling.”