Crop One Holdings and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) announced that the two organizations have received a $1.5 million cost-matching grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) to help scientists develop a means to efficiently grow plant-based dietary protein via controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Crop One and CSHL researchers will use the funds to develop the fast-growing aquatic plants of the Lemnaceae (Lemna) family, with their high protein levels, to provide high-quality protein for human consumption.
“We’re eager to work closely alongside the Martienssen lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to adapt and extend existing technology in controlled environment agriculture to the year-round cultivation, harvesting, and commercial product optimization of Lemnaceae aquatic plants,” said Deane Falcone, Chief Scientific Officer at Crop One. “Our work will undoubtedly help increase access and meet the growing demands for more nutritious, sustainable foods while easing the burden on plant and animal protein production systems.”
“Lemnaceae is uniquely suited for the human diet and can supplement our protein needs as the global demand for protein grows,” said Dr. Jeffrey Rosichan, FFAR scientific program director. “This research is helping to improve its nutritional value and bring improved controlled environment agriculture technology to bear on expanding its availability to consumers.”
Once proven to be commercially scalable, Lemna-based protein can be used in the fast-growing alternative meat industry and other applications using plant-based protein sources. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the plant-based foods category could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over $162 billion. In addition to the positive implications for the human diet, CEA-grown plant-based protein is more sustainable than traditionally grown outdoor crops, using up to 95% less water. “Plant-based proteins are poised to significantly reduce agricultural carbon emissions,” adds CSHL Professor and HHMI investigator Rob Martienssen, principal investigator on the FFAR grant.
The Martienssen lab has been working with Lemna for more than a decade and will bring its considerable genomic resources to the project, enabling improvements of the plant’s dietary protein and specialty proteins. CSHL’s proteomic and metabolomic analytical facilities will help optimize growth and production. “We are excited to work with Crop One to translate our basic discoveries and genetic technology to scalable CEA solutions,” said project manager Evan Ernst.
Most plant-derived protein on the market today is seed based, including soy, beans, and nuts, which are often deficient in one or more key amino acids, preventing the use of a single plant to provide complete protein for human diets. In contrast, like broccoli or spinach, leaf-derived Lemna protein has a more complete profile with high levels of the essential amino acids methionine and lysine.
The project is funded by the Seeding Solutions program at FFAR, a nonprofit building public-private partnerships to fund audacious research addressing the biggest challenges in food and agriculture. The project fulfills the program’s priority goals of crop diversity and resilience, as it represents the opportunity to deliver an innovative new source of dietary protein.
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