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922. Protein Transition

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922. Protein Transition


Today I am pleased to present a recently published paper (Mylan, Andrews, and Maye 2023) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In recent years, there has been widespread recognition that the existing food system faces sustainability challenges, leading to growing calls for transformative change. At the center of these discussions is the role of animal agriculture, with a particular focus on the prospect of a "protein transition," in which animal-derived foods are replaced by plant-based alternatives or "alternative proteins.
While the potential impact of this transition on sustainability is recognized, the evolution of relevant technologies and their inherent potential remains a subject of intense scrutiny. This article focuses on two key questions: 1) How has innovation in alternative proteins evolved over the past 30 years? and 2) What has driven the accelerated innovation in alternative proteins in recent years?
In addressing these questions, this article focuses on four categories of alternative proteins:

1)Plant-based meat:Derived from raw materials such as soybeans and processed to simulate a meat-like texture, this innovation was commercialized in the 1950s and has been progressively improved.

2)Single Cell Proteins (SCPs):Produced through the fermentation of fungi, algae, yeast or bacteria, with Quorn mycoprotein among the successfully commercialized examples.

3)Precision (cellular) fermentation:A fusion of fermentation and genetic engineering that enables microorganisms to produce animal-derived proteins such as casein and whey.

4)Cultured meat:sing tissue engineering, this method cultivates cells from living animals to produce muscle tissue; a rapidly developing technology since the 2010s, resulting in products such as hamburgers and nuggets.


An in-depth analysis of the development and diffusion of these technologies, examining their progress, drivers and barriers, underscores the significant involvement of major food companies. Recent progress is consistent with a discernible trend of increased corporate involvement in alternative proteins, reflecting growing pressure on the livestock production system. This pressure is being fueled in particular by the growing scientific consensus and public awareness of the link between climate change and a diet heavily dependent on meat.
Despite this progress, political, regulatory and cultural barriers remain for some alternative proteins, casting a shadow over the transformative potential of protein transition.


Mylan, J., Andrews, J., & Maye, D. (2023). The big business of sustainable food production and consumption: Exploring the transition to alternative proteins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(47), e2207782120.  https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2207782120


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