Special Section on Food Engineering: AI-Driven Protein Discovery for Functional Ingredients | AIChE

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Special Section on Food Engineering: AI-Driven Protein Discovery for Functional Ingredients

Special Section

The global food system needs novel technologies to cope with the increasing demand for protein-rich foods. Artificial intelligence may provide a path toward creating the next generation of functional protein ingredients.

Over the past decade, scientists and society have increasingly recognized the need to develop new technologies for food production to support the growing human population. It is estimated that currently, the food system gives rise to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions; animal agriculture alone accounts for about 16.5% of total emissions (1). Aside from the increase in population, the problem is made more acute by the fact that with advancing economies and standards of living across the globe, a greater fraction of the population is projected to want access to protein-rich foods, especially meats. Furthermore, recent pandemics and geopolitical disturbances have exposed the vulnerability of current food supply chains. As an example, the avian influenza outbreak of 2023 led to the death and culling of millions of egg-laying hens within the U.S. alone and resulted in an increase in egg prices and egg shortages in the country (1). Hence, simply scaling our existing food systems is not a sustainable solution to being able to provide a secure, stable, and equitable food supply for all.

To begin addressing this problem, many companies are working to develop sources of proteins that will enable the creation of meats and other animal products, but with a lower environmental footprint than animal agriculture. While many plant-based foods have entered the market as alternatives to animal products — with sales of plant-based alternatives reaching $1.4 billion in 2022 (1) — their widespread adoption is still limited by their inability to deliver 100% authentic taste and texture. Although these products indeed represent big advances in the industry, they have a higher price point than animal meat or dairy products. In large part, the gaps in product performance exist because the palette of functional ingredients that formulators have access to is extremely limited.

This article highlights the work of one company that is creating a new pipeline of protein ingredients through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). A novel AI-based platform will vastly expand the toolbox of proteins available to food formulators so the industry can close the product acceptance gaps and drive higher mainstream adoption of these foods...

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