Technion - Israel Institute of Technology announces the establishment of a “Sustainable Protein Research Center”
Addressing global challenges of climate change, human health, and nutrition, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology recently announced the establishment of a world-class multidisciplinary research center for sustainable protein. The Sustainable Protein Research Center (SPRC) will function as a hub for fundamental and applied research in the field of alternative proteins, commercialization and entrepreneurship, and research support to the industry. Furthermore, the SPRC is expected to attract excellent new faculty members and young researchers and promote the field by harnessing and nurturing the outstanding research atmosphere on campus.
The SPRC, the first of its kind in the world, will coordinate the collaborative activities of dozens of researchers from more than 10 different academic departments at the Technion and with additional universities and companies, to address world’s most pressing challenges of sustainability and human health. These challenges are strongly linked to the growing global population and the even faster-growing consumption of meat and other animal products. Animal agriculture is unsustainable because it requires enormous areas of land and large quantities of fresh water, which are dwindling resources. This is one of the causes of uprooting evergreen forests, rapidly declining biodiversity, land, water, and air pollution and global warming. Moreover, the animal agriculture industry is a major polluter, responsible for 20% of greenhouse gasses emission, and the largest consumer of antibiotics (73% globally), which leads to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria – a problem that is predicted to become a major cause of human mortality in the future. Additionally, animal welfare is a concern shared by a growing number of people worldwide.
In recent years, there has been unprecedented progress in the development of alternatives to animal-based foods that would be more sustainable, healthier, and animal-considerate. These technologies mainly include plant-based, cell culture-based, and fermentation-based solutions. Numerous academic innovations and startups have emerged and increasing investments and governmental funds are being directed to address this important challenge. Israel is second in the world to the U.S. in the total investments within the field of sustainable protein.
Nevertheless, the scientific and technological challenges are immense – slowing the rate of progress due to a lack of basic knowledge. Toward this end, the newly established SPRC will promote and facilitate collaborative multidisciplinary research providing new insights, introducing novel technologies, and educating and training professional workers. It will support the industry, particularly startups, in overcoming challenges, including scale-up related obstacles.
The decision to establish the Center was made by Technion Management in December 2022, and initiation efforts are now in high gear. With a 5-year budget of $20 million, the Center will facilitate the recruitment of new faculty members in the field and support the construction of a building for the Carasso FoodTech Innovation Center. It will purchase and maintain dedicated capital equipment and recruit professional technicians. The Center will fund collaborative seed-research and train graduate students and post docs in related fields.
This initiative is being led by the Technion and includes joint efforts with the Good Food Institute, an international non-profit think tank working to accelerate alternative protein innovation. The Research Center Director is Professor Yoav D. Livney, and the Deputy Director is Professor Avi Shpigelman, both from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering. David Shem Tov of the Technion Research and Development Foundation, Ltd. will manage the center’s relations with the industry and governmental agencies on both the national and international levels.
Dr. Michal Halpert, Director of Academic Relations at GFI Israel, said: “Israel is already considered a world leader in innovation in the field of alternative proteins. It ranks second in the world in investments in startups in the field, and there is no doubt that the establishment of such a research center that will be the first of its kind in the world is important to maintaining Israel’s leadership. More than 50% of the investments in startup companies in Israel went to companies that were based on research that began in academia, so that the research center may initiate new foodtech companies and attract additional investments to Israel.”
“This is the first academic research center in the world specifically designed for interdisciplinary research of alternative protein,” she continued. “This is a big step for positioning the Technion, and the State of Israel, as the spearhead of developing the technologies that will reshape the future of food. Investing in research is critical. There is no ‘Hocus Pocus’ in food, and to bring about breakthroughs requires the investment of many years in research, many brilliant minds and millions of dollars, and the Technion does exactly that.