$30M Purse: Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein Launches at Imperial

Bezos Earth Fund grant establishes a new center at Imperial to transform global food systems from environmentally damaging to innovative by creating sustainable solutions
Food & Nutrition
Funding & Investments
June 24, 2024

Imperial College London has unveiled its new Bezos Centre for Sustainable Protein, aiming to create innovative, evidence-based solutions for alternative food products. These products will be economically and environmentally friendly, nutritious, affordable, and tasty. Spanning seven academic departments, the Centre will focus on cutting-edge research areas such as precision fermentation, cultivated meat, bioprocessing and automation, nutrition, and the application of AI and machine learning.

The DNA foundry at Imperial College London. [Thomas Angus / Imperial College London]

The Bezos Earth Fund is funding the Centre as part of a $100 million commitment to developing sustainable protein alternatives, with an overarching goal of transforming the global food system. This initiative is part of a broader $1 billion effort to enhance consumer choice and promote food sustainability. The Centre joins other Earth Fund initiatives working with institutions and industry partners to advance and commercialize new protein products, offering consumers more alternatives to traditional meat and dairy.

Advancing Global Food Security

"Food security is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity," stated Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London. "For a sustainable future, we need to ensure that people across the world can be fed adequately and nutritiously with minimal impact on biodiversity, climate, and our natural environment. Imperial is well-positioned to lead this charge with our advanced research, innovation, and powerful partnerships."

Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Earth Fund, emphasized the urgency of this initiative. "By 2050, the world population will exceed 10 billion. Now is the time to rethink how we produce and consume food. This Centre will help ensure our future includes more protein options that are nutritious, affordable, and environmentally friendly."

Transforming Protein Production

Proteins, vital to human health, are traditionally sourced from both animals and plants. However, the production of animal-based proteins consumes extensive land and emits significant greenhouse gases. As the global population grows, there's a pressing need for protein sources that are not only nutritious and tasty but also sustainable and eco-friendly.

Plant-based proteins, such as pea-protein-based burgers, have already started to make their mark. Additionally, innovative technologies like microbial fermentation and cultivated meat from animal cells are emerging as promising alternatives. To achieve widespread acceptance, these proteins must improve in quality, price, and production efficiency. This involves the sustainable creation of other food components, including healthy fats, carbohydrates, and essential elements like flavor, aroma, colorants, and vitamins, through engineering biology.

Accelerating Bio-based Innovations

The Bezos Centre will harness engineering biology, which combines engineering principles with biological processes, to design and manufacture cells and products. Utilizing automation and biofoundries, where cells act as mini-factories, the Centre aims to expedite the development and scaling of new bio-based processes.

The Centre will leverage institutes and facilities to translate discoveries into practical applications, educate future bioengineers, and support commercialization. Key collaborators include the Centre for Synthetic Biology, SynbiCITE, and the Centre for Translational Nutrition & Food Research, which partners with industry giants like Quorn, Nestle, Unilever, and Waitrose.

"The Centre’s ethos is that bio-engineered solutions can – and should – benefit both the planet and people," said Dr. Rodrigo Ledesma-Amaro, the Centre's Director from Imperial's Department of Bioengineering. "Imperial is uniquely positioned to drive the alt-protein revolution and transform global food systems."

Dr. Andy Jarvis, the Earth Fund’s Director of Future of Food, added, "Later is dangerously too late. Imperial College London’s pioneering efforts in Engineering Biology uniquely position it to advance sustainable protein options for our growing global population."

Global Collaboration

The Centre will operate from its hub at Imperial, supported by three UK and three international spokes, collaborating with over 65 global partners. UK partners include the Cellular Agriculture Manufacturing Hub at UCL and Aberystwyth University, the Food Centre at Reading University, and the Growing Kent & Medway consortium. International partners feature the Technical University of Denmark (Biosustain), Tufts University (Centre for Cellular Agriculture), and the National University of Singapore.

This launch follows the recent announcement of a sister center at North Carolina State University, underscoring the Bezos Earth Fund's dedication to transforming food and agricultural systems, including reducing livestock emissions.

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