Alternative proteins are gaining space in the classroom

One of the aims of the academic world is to be one step ahead of society. Access to knowledge in the university environment is a decisive driver of change where, more often than not, the future begins to be defined. It is therefore good news that studies specialising in alternative proteins such as cultured meat are gaining space on international campuses.

Biotechnology is, for several reasons, one of the scientific disciplines being highlighted in the context of the climate emergency and the recent coronavirus pandemic. Behind the vaccines developed against SARS-CoV-2, there is a lot of science but above of biotechnology.

Until the beginning of the 21st century, the most relevant advances in the biotechnology sector have been in genetic engineering and medicine. But beyond the health field, its development extends to other relevant disciplines such as agri-food engineering. It is here that biotechnology can use it to increase food production and supply capacity, one of the main challenges facing our global food system.

The application of biotechnology in the agri-food ecosystem allows for the improvement and creation of healthier, fat-free food, while increasing food safety, as there is no exposure to pathogens. In addition, and given the need to save natural resources, the development of alternative proteins has a much lower environmental impact than other traditional foods.   

In the context of the new academic year, we are optimistic that the food of the future and alternative proteins, such as cultured meat, is gaining ground on university campuses. The study of ‘Alt-Protein’ is a fact in the classroom, and the Agro-Food Tech industry is a growing ecosystem that demands professional profiles increasingly specialised in ‘Future Foods’.

Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)

During the 2021-2022 academic year, students at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore could be taking a course dedicated to exploring new meat alternatives. Entitled “Food of the Future – Introduction to Advanced Meat Alternatives”, the subject is open to third and fourth-year undergraduate science and engineering students and will be coordinated by Professor William Chen, who heads NTU’s Food Science and Technology programme. It is the first university course on future food activation in the Asia-Pacific region.

In collaboration with the Good Food Institute (GFI), the elective aims to give students an overview of the three main pillars of the alternative protein industry: plant, breeding and fermentation technologies. Students will carry out a research project that addresses a real challenge facing the alternative protein industry today. The curriculum will also address the sustainability of alternative proteins and how the industry can contribute to global food security and combat climate change.

Wageningen University (The Netherlands)

A group of graduate students at Wageningen University (WUR), a renowned centre for food technology in the Netherlands, began to wonder why there was no official course that gave a good overview of this protein transformation we are seeing or, as they call it, the alternative protein transition. Now, thanks to their work, and with the support of Dr Guido Sala, Professor of Physics and Physical Chemistry of Food at the WUR, there will soon be a specialised module.

Within alternative proteins, the course aims to train students on plant-based solutions, cell-based meats, fermentation-based technologies and even insect proteins.

These are just a few examples of the first official courses focusing on alternative proteins being launched in the university environment, confirming that awareness and interest in the food of the future have only just begun!