AI-driven biotech startup ferments natural ingredients to double bakery shelf life


Tired of that blue mold on your bread? Protera recently received a $ 5.6 million boost from investors for its fermented protein which can replace artificial food additives and increase the shelf life of baked goods by 30 days or more.

Consumers want natural alternatives to artificial food ingredients, and they are willing to pay more for them. This is leading to a sustained increase in the global clean label market, which is expected to reach $ 51 billion by 2024.

Clean Label products are foods that can be labeled as natural, which are perceived by consumers as healthier and safer. Although labeling something natural can have little sense for what’s really inside the product, consumer perceptions are pushing the industry to find ways to make natural products using fermentation, the same process used to create bread, beer and kombucha. The added benefit of fermentation is that you can use it to make ingredients that are better than conventional chemical ingredients.

“Naturally fermented ingredients are the wave of the future,” says Christine Gould, Founder and CEO of Thought for food, which connects and empowers innovators in global food security. “Not only are consumers more accepting of them, but the natural repertoire of biology can be harnessed for ingredients that conventional chemistry cannot beat. “

An effective Clean Label preservative for baking

In baking, artificial ingredients often work as preservatives, increasing food safety by preventing spoilage of perishable foods. Bakery products are particularly susceptible to fungal spoilage, which has proven to be a challenge for natural ingredients in the past.

“Antifungal compounds are difficult to replace,” says Leonardo Álvarez, CEO and co-founder of Protera.

We all dread finding that ominous green or blue stain spoil our perfect loaf of bread. Mold, the bane of bakers, comes from bacteria that produce rope spores. Rope spores can survive baking at 300 ° F and start growing almost as soon as the bread comes out of the oven. Within hours, baked goods become smelly and inedible.

To prevent mold, most food manufacturers use calcium propionate. Calcium propionate is a natural compound, but it has to be produced artificially in order to get the high amounts needed to ward off the nasty microbes that can ruin a bakery. Preservatives that are both naturally produced and equally effective have been scarce.

This is where Protera comes in. Protera’s solution is based on synthetic biology, a discipline that uses nature’s own tools to create healthy and sustainable products. These products, often new proteins, are produced by fermentation, which is not all that different from baking bread or brewing beer.

“There is no protein-based alternative on the market today – all you have are natural extracts or other fermented organic acids, which can increase the shelf life of the product. ‘about 12 days,’ says lvarez. “We have developed a new protein that can extend shelf life by 30 days, in some cases over 45 days.”

The company recently closed a $ 5.6 million Series A financing, led by Sofinnova Partners, to disrupt the clean label bakery market with a cultivation solution with artificial additives.

“Sofinnova Partners invested in Protera because we recognize the huge market opportunity that opens up in the convergence between biology and AI-based solutions,” Joško Bobanovic, partner at Sofinnova Partners, told me. “Protera’s very entrepreneurial team has created a game-changing approach to design unique and natural solutions that meet what the market demands.

Deep learning speeds up protein discovery

This fermented replacement, known as Protera Guard, was a rapid innovation driven by demand from industry. Using the insights offered by deep learning, a subset of machine learning, the Protera team was able to move from concept to product at breakneck speed – just a year to come up with a functioning protein.

“What we’ve developed is a different way of looking at predicting protein structure,” says lvarez of Protera’s proprietary MADI algorithm, which is already being applied to a wide range of industries. Based on end-to-end GPU computing, which reduces compute costs, MADI is massively accelerating the analysis of billions of proteins that the world hasn’t yet had time to explore.

The deep learning component can predict the structure and characteristics of proteins such as solubility, thermostability and pH range – all of which are important when exploring the potential functionality of a new food additive, and can even improve what is currently on the market. Existing preservatives require, for example, a strictly acidic environment. Protera’s products are effective over a much wider pH range.

“These deep learning apps show incredible accuracy in terms of what we’ve predicted, what we’re testing and how that translates into products,” lvarez tells me. “It reduces the number of experiments we have to do in the lab. Instead of thousands, we can do – say – ten iterations. “

Palm oil and Paris propionate

Applications of Protera’s Natural Intelligence pipeline – which combines AI-based prediction with laboratory protein engineering and final product fermentation – are not limited to baked goods.

Emulsifiers and antioxidants are at the top of the list of the next targets. Then there’s palm oil, a multi-faceted product that is found in about half of all the food products that line supermarket shelves and yet is tainted with sustainability concerns and its association with the acceleration of deforestation in some of the most biodiverse regions of the world.

“The main goal is to replace palm oil from the market, especially because of environmental concerns,” says Lvarez, who wants to tackle the common problem of producing a viable alternative that also has a better health profile. “We have developed a new enzymatic process to produce healthier spreads without trans fat. “

The problem with palm oil is scale, requiring millions of tonnes of production to be truly competitive. Álvarez expects the company’s big move to Paris to prepare her well for this challenge.

” We joined Station F in Paris – it’s amazing, this place with over a thousand startups, ”he tells me of the move. “The bio-industry is more prepared in Europe in general. There is a greater capacity for fermentation, and in France there is enormous potential for recruitment on the AI ​​side. “

While Protera’s protein engineering team will remain in Chile, large-scale production and AI development will move to Paris. And as the company works to break into the palm oil market, in the short term at least, what better way to disrupt the bakery than the bread house?

Follow me on Twitter at @johncumbers and @synbiobeta. Subscribe to my weekly synthetic biology newsletters. thank’s for Peter Bickerton for additional research and reports in this article. I am the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta Conference and weekly summary. Here is the complete list of SynBioBeta sponsors.

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