A Growing Population in a Closed System Puts Large Demands on Planetary Resources…

The Global Footprint Network (footprintnetwork.org) estimates that the Earth’s current population uses the annual equivalent of 1.6 times the Earth’s resources to sustain itself.  In other words, billions of years of accumulated resources are being spent faster than they are regenerated. This is not a viable scenario for the future of humankind.

Furthermore, the figure below from the World Resources Institute shows dramatically the impact that agriculture has on basic planetary resources:  Even without secondary food production, it’s abundantly clear that producing and feeding the Earth’s burgeoning population is a major factor determining the limits of growth and sustainability.

WRI Image 2010 - Agiculture environmental impact

The H2020 funded project PROMINENT (PROtein MINing of Cereal Side Streams Exploring New Technological Concepts) aims to enable better use of the planet’s limited resources by promoting more efficient utilization of agricultural products.  As a partner in the PROMINENT project, UpFront Chromatography A/S provides three key areas of expertise to the consortium

  • Expertise in Downstream Processing (DSP) utilizing UpFront’s Expanded Bed Adsorption (EBA) chromatography platform
  • Expertise in Bioanalytical and Protein Chemical methodology to support process and application development
  • Understanding of protein structure-function relationships and delineation of these with respect to functional macroscopic properties

Downstream Processing is often the costliest process involved in obtaining valuable protein products from complex mixtures of feedstock.  For well defined, high-value target protein products like biopharmaceutical APIs, the cost of DSP, while large, is often acceptable because of the very high prices biopharmaceutical products command in the market.  For the Food Industry, where product profit margins do not approach those of pharmaceuticals, DSP has often been limited to bulk processes and membrane filtration approaches because of cost. This fact presents the Food Industry with a DSP paradox:  Traditional products extracted from food industry process streams have tended to be mixtures of proteins that provide some desired functionalities at acceptable production costs.  On the other hand, however, these traditional protein isolates and concentrates tend to command lower market prices than pure protein fractions because of limits in their nutritional or functional properties.  Case in point: Whey Protein Concentrates and Isolates versus individually purified whey proteins such as lactoferrin. How then do we solve the conundrum of using more expensive chromatographic DSP in low-margin industries?

By providing the PROMINENT consortium with a battery of EBA resins tailored for processing crude byproduct and waste streams from cereal processing plants to obtain products targeted for specific business scenarios with strict cost of goods sold targets, UpFront is helping the partners isolate higher value protein products that aim to provide improved nutritional and/or functional properties from otherwise low value process streams at reasonable costs.  In this case EBA can be thought of as a pair of efficient “molecular tweezers” used to pluck promising high-value products out of a molecular morass.

During project process development, bioanalytical and protein chemical techniques are used to begin to shed light on protein molecular properties and identities. For example, amino acid content can be determined, proteins identified by immunochemical and/or mass spectrometry techniques, and molecular structural properties can begin to be correlated with functional properties at the macroscopic level for a better general understanding of the potential protein functional ingredients, thereby identifying promising product candidates from environmentally favorable sources.

Thus, through the PROMINENT project, one of UpFront’s long-term goals is being facilitated:  To help the Food industry supplant traditional, animal-based protein ingredients with sustainable plant-based ingredients that provide similar or improved properties and help to provide one of the many solutions the planet will need throughout the 21st century and beyond to achieve sustainability.