Motif FoodWorks enters molecular farming partnership to produce its heme ingredient


Dive Brief:

  • Food tech company Motif FoodWorks is partnering with molecular farming startup IngredientWerks to explore optimizing heme production through plant bioengineering and cultivation.
  • Motif has been using precision fermentation to produce its Hemami ingredient, which is identical to myoglobin in beef. Through this agreement, Motif and IngredientWerks will move toward plant modification to see if they can use corn crops to produce Hemami.
  • Molecular farming is an alternative way of producing different substances. Plants are genetically modified so they produce a particular substance — like a protein found in animals or a rare sweetener. When the plants grow, they are harvested to extract that substance.

Dive Insight:

It’s already been a huge year for molecular farming. The practice quickly went from something that was only known in scientific circles to an up-and-coming area in food and ingredient production that is garnering big investments and attention. IngredientWerks has been one of the companies seeing the most action so far.

The company, which spun out of bioengineering-enhanced animal feed maker Agrivida, closed its seed funding round for an undisclosed amount in February.

In the release announcing the funding, CEO Matt Plavan said the company was now well positioned to take its technology to the next level and “demonstrate our solution to one of the greatest challenges facing mainstream adoption of alt proteins – affordable cost with equivalent taste and nutrition to their animal counterparts.”

This partnership with Motif allows IngredientWerks to put its proposition to the test. Motif is known for its wide use of cutting-edge science to redesign how plant-based ingredients are conceived and produced. But precision fermentation — in which an organism such as yeast is modified so that it makes another substance when fermented — is a difficult business to get into.

Many food startups are trying to use this technology to make things like animal proteins, oils or alternative sweeteners.

Demand for facilities to perfect precision fermentation technology far outweighs supply. Motif does have access to fermentation equipment, but the company said in a statement it wants to make its ingredients as cost-effectively as possible.

Manufacturing that depends on finding or building an industrial-scale precision fermentation facility could become expensive since the costs for those facilities — or transporting a finished ingredient if the facility is farther away — adds to their cost.

Molecular farming could be more cost-effective, and mass production much easier in the long run. If bioengineered corn could be used to produce Hemami, Motif could take advantage of the vast farming infrastructure that is already in place to produce its ingredient. It also would lower the ingredient’s carbon footprint.

If molecular farming is indeed a good way to produce Hemami, Motif will be a pioneer in its use and will have the knowledge and agreements to utilize the method for other ingredients. IngredientWerks also will be seen as an entity that can harness the power of molecular farming.

But even if this project isn’t successful, it provides new knowledge about the practical applications of molecular farming for the food ingredients space. It could encourage other companies to work with the technology to see how it may apply to their needs.

Many companies getting into molecular farming today are following a similar path, pursuing high-profile projects to get their work noticed and supported by powerbrokers in food, finance and technology.

Elo Life Systems, which was spun out of biotech company Precision BioSciences in 2021, is making a monk fruit sweetener and partnering with produce giant Dole to create a disease-resistant banana. And Moolec Science, which was carved out of Bioceres Crop Solutions in 2020, recently went public on Nasdaq to both gain exposure and showcase the addressable market of molecular farming ingredients. 

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About the Author

Jervie David Montejar
A food lover who wants to try every delicious dishes around him and spread the news to everyone to try it as well. Finding the latest trends about food and restaurants around Cebu and the rest of the world :) "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." -Ernestine Ulmer
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