Yeast as an environmentally friendly alternative to soy and Co.

The increasing hunger for meat in the world should not put agricultural production in any trouble. Boku researchers are now growing yeast that feeds on pure CO2 and is then harvested as feed or food – and used as the basis for bioplastics.

Around half of the world’s agricultural area is not used for human consumption, but for animal feed. “One of the big points in the whole of CO2-The problem is our current diet in the industrialized world – and the fact that meat consumption is also increasing in regions like China, ”says Diethard Mattanovich from the Institute for Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology at Boku Vienna. How can you satisfy all the hunger for meat without plowing additional fields so that our meat suppliers are satisfied? A young team from the Department of Biotechnology discovered a solution that protects the environment in several ways.

Thomas Gaßler and Michael Egermeier succeeded in genetically modifying yeast strains in such a way that they differ from pure CO2 can feed. In the future, this could satisfy the hunger of farm animals through biotechnological steps and no longer through agricultural land. The Boku spin-off CarboFeed was funded by the research funding agency FFG and is receiving more and more awards, such as the Phönix Founder’s Prize 2021.

“Plants also use CO2to grow. And we were able to incorporate their chemical recycling route, the Calvin cycle, into the yeast cells, ”explains Mattanovich. While plants use sunlight as an energy source to generate CO2 To fix it and convert it into sugar, yeast uses chemical energy: the simplest organic alcohol, methanol. The yeast strains, important protein sources for our and animal nutrition, use both CO2 and methanol as food: they bind the climate-damaging gas in order to grow. “The energy-rich methanol, in turn, is also made from CO2 won: In this way, large amounts of carbon dioxide can be converted into biomass that can be used as animal feed – or in the future also for human nutrition, ”says Mattanovich. The protein content of the yeast strains is very similar to the soy products commonly found in feed and food. “And we know that growing soy is not only causing environmental problems in the Amazon,” says Mattanovich.