The way we grow, cook, and consume food is constantly evolving.
From selective breeding of crops during the late Neolithic to modern agricultural biotechnology, we’ve tinkered with the living systems that generate our foodstuffs for millennia. With increasingly precise bioengineering and a newfound appreciation for how microbes help make—and then digest—the things we eat, some new projects are dramatically changing our very concept of food.
That said, the juncture of food and biotechnology has been hotly—sometimes violently— contested, pitting contemporary business practices against historical modes of food production. Global policy questions persist about what modes of engineering should be regulated, what crop traits are safe and healthy, what traits are desirable, if at all.
Cow-free milk products
Perfect day and Real Vegan Cheese
Using genetically engineered yeast to produce milk proteins, these companies are removing the animal from animal products and replacing them with microbes that supply similar proteins for milk and cheeses with a fraction of the environmental footprint. Future applications may push our flavor boundaries. Using genes from the narwhal, Real Vegan Cheese hopes to make cheese from yeast-derived narwhal milk. LEARN MORE ABOUT PERFECT DAY • LEARN MORE ABOUT REAL VEGAN CHEESE
Memphis Meats is developing cell-based meat grown in petri dishes in the lab. The company hopes to replace traditional animal agricultural practices with this cruelty-free method. LEARN MORE
Bistro In Vitro,
Submarine Channel and Next Nature Network
Bistro In Vitro is a fictitious restaurant with a menu of futuristic meals derived from biotechnology. These include steaks grown from cell cultures in a synthesizer, teppanyaki made directly from fish muscle tissue, and oysters grown in bioreactors. LEARN MORE
Just Mayo and Just Cookies, Hampton Creek
Using proteins found in plants such as yellow peas, Hampton Creek has created egg replacements that have similar proteins to eggs but don’t require chicken farming. LEARN MORE
Scents and flavors derived from the natural world, such as rose and vanilla, can be costly and are subject to crop fluctuations. Companies such as Ginkgo Bioworks have analyzed the genes responsible for these ingredients and inserted them into strains of yeast. These engineered yeasts then produce the scent molecules. One day soon, these companies may produce scents and flavors totally unknown to the natural world. LEARN MORE
Nitrogen fixing crops
Modern crops require a tremendous amount of fertilizer, largely made up of nitrogen. One of the holy grails of agriculture has been to bioengineer plants to capture their own nitrogen from the air. Legumes—the exception—already do so through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live in the nodules of their roots. Scientists are exploring how staples such as corn can do the same through a variety of means, including creating new symbiotic relationships with bacteria and engineering nitrogen fixation into plant leaves. LEARN MORE
Food processing and packaging
Bacteriophage diagnostic system, Sample6
A company called Sample6 has developed a pathogen diagnostic system which takes advantage of the natural properties of bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria). These phages are bioengineered to find specific pathogenic bacteria and force them to express a bioluminescent protein, luciferase. This system has the potential to significantly reduces the cost and time involved in testing food to make sure it contains safe levels of common germs that make us sick. LEARN MORE
Biodegradable Water Bottle, Ari Jónsson
Plastic water bottles made from polyethylene can take up to 1000 years to degrade. Made from agar, a traditional powder derived from algae, this biodegradable water bottle can be eaten or composted after use. LEARN MORE
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and Sascha Pohflepp
The artists envision an herbicide sprayer whose components are grown within the the fruit of bioengineered plants. The sprayer is an object from a future in which only the wealthy can afford traditional, mass-produced commodities. The poor must grow their goods from bioengineered seeds. The pieces play on our ideas of industrial standards. LEARN MORE
WikiPearl was inspired by the protective peels of fruits and vegetables. It protects food in an edible skin of electrostatic gel formed by harnessing interactions among natural food particles, nutritive ions, and a polysaccharide. Products include edible skins for ice cream, yogurt, and cheese. LEARN MORE
Banner image: Next Nature Network, Lab Pearls.