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University to develop £14m sustainable microbial foods project

18 Mar 2024 3 minute read
Old College Aberystwyth University. Photo Reading Tom, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Scientists at a Welsh university will help to develop sustainable microbial foods as part of a new £14m project.

IBERS researchers at Aberystwyth will contribute to the work of the new Microbial Food Hub which has been funded as part of a £100m UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) initiative to unlock the potential of engineering biology.

Microbial foods are produced by micro-organisms such as yeast and fungi through fermentation and offer a more sustainable and healthier alternative to some foods.

The first of its kind in the world, the Microbial Food Hub brings together academics, industrial partners, food organisations and consumers.


It aims to develop new fermented foods that are better for the environment, more resilient to climatic or political shocks, and healthier and tastier for consumers.

The Hub will focus on fermented food products and ingredients, including growing fungal cells with high nutritional properties and producing ingredients using engineered microorganisms.

It will also research traditional fermentation methods, which use microbes to transform and improve the nutrition and taste of basic plant products.

Ibers building in Gogerddan campus, photo credit: Anthony Pugh

Dr Dave Bryant, from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, said: “Microbes are ideal for food production because they grow rapidly, do not need large amounts of land or water, and can feed on surplus and co-product streams from our existing food industries.

“The foods they produce are less susceptible to adverse weather and can be produced locally, reducing transport costs, carbon footprint and our dependence on imported food. So, this announcement has enormous potential to address global challenges and drive economic growth, resilience, and preparedness.”


Professor Ledesma-Amaro from Imperial, who leads the project, said: “Engineering biology is already being used to optimise microbial food production, and microbes can now be manipulated to be more productive, tastier and more nutritious.

“Applying recent scientific developments to microbial foods has the potential to radically change the way food is produced, creating an important and timely opportunity to address some of the most critical health and sustainability challenges of our time.”

The new mission hubs and awards projects are designed to play a key role in achieving the UK Government’s vision for engineering biology announced last year.


Andrew Griffith, UK Government Minister for Science, Research and Innovation announced funding for six new Engineering Biology Mission Hubs. He said: “Engineering biology has the power to transform our health and environment, from developing life-saving medicines to protecting our environment and food supply and beyond.

“With new Hubs and Mission Awards spread across the country, from Edinburgh to Portsmouth, we are supporting ambitious researchers and innovators around the UK in pioneering groundbreaking new solutions which can transform how we live our lives, while growing our economy.”

The project will make use of the specialist research and development facilities at AberInnovation based at Aberystwyth University’s Gogerddan campus.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 months ago

The generation of scientists who brought us processed foods have yet to be charged…

3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Lot of the faddy stuff has undergone extensive processing before the hipsters and yuppies get round to munching on it, so the food technologists are still doing good business. Best options are fresh veg from a local grower, extension of the fresh fruit and salad seasons by more use of polytunnel and indoor growing techniques. Get your meat and dairy from a source within your local county or better still from your village. Stuff the food miles and faddy foods. Supermarkets would then have to change their business models, with a bit of luck some might just disappear.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
3 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Most people don’t have the luxury of buying local at highly inflated prices, plus many supermarkets do actually make an effort to stock locally produced food, even the discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

The ‘hipsters and yuppies’ you refer to are not in general those who eat processed food, but are usually those with sufficient disposable income to be able to afford locally grown organic food. The processed and ultra processed food is more often consumed by those with the smallest incomes.

Substantially increase the incomes of the poorest and you might get the change you envisage.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
3 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Processed foods have been around as long as human beings have been around, some are healthy some are not. So it’s utter nonsense to rail against processed foods as universally a bad thing.

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
3 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

This is actually just the innovation that farming in Cymru needs. If we bear in mind that the Westminster Governement has approved a trade deal with NZ that undercuts sheep meat from Cymru and the same Government has joined the Pacific Rim trade group which includes Canada. They want to use the treaty to override the UK’s currently higher welfare and food standards for beef on the grounds that it is an obstacle to free trade. Many of the younger end of the population in Cymru are so concerned about cliate change that they have become vegetarian or vegan and… Read more »

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