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Bezos Earth Fund Grant Creates Sustainable Protein Research Hub at NC State

A food scientist hydrates a protein for use in a food formulation.

The Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein launched today at North Carolina State University. The Bezos Earth Fund awarded NC State $30 million over five years to lead a center of excellence to create a biomanufacturing hub for dietary proteins that are environmentally friendly, healthy, tasty and affordable. The Earth Fund has committed $100 million to establish a network of open-access research and development centers focused on sustainable protein alternatives, expanding consumer choices.

The center will engage partners from academia and industry to research, create, and commercialize new technologies, provide training for the emerging industry workforce, and gauge consumers’ protein preferences.

“As a land-grant university in a state with significant animal agriculture, NC State is uniquely positioned to help shape the future of sustainable food production,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson. “We’re thankful for the support from the Bezos Earth Fund that will help drive economic and workforce development in this critical area of sustainable protein production in order to feed a growing world population in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. The state legislature’s funding of the Food Innovation Lab in Kannapolis and new facilities in the College of Engineering have made NC State incredibly competitive for this grant.”

Protein is essential to human health, whether it comes from animal or plant sources. Without the amino acids in protein, our cells, tissues and organs can’t function. And as the global population expands, the health of both humans and the planet will increasingly depend on widespread availability of proteins that taste good and are produced in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect nature.

“Food production is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so it’s critical we find ways to feed a growing population without degrading the planet,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Earth Fund. “Sustainable protein has tremendous potential but more research is needed to reduce the price and boost the flavor and texture to ensure nutritious, affordable products are available. It’s about choice.”

The grant funding will support research on three types of sustainable proteins: plant-based products; precision fermentation to produce proteins and nutrients that can be used in food formulations; and cultivated meat grown from animal cells.

“Feeding a growing world requires producing tasty proteins that won’t further degrade nature,” said Andy Jarvis, the Earth Fund’s Director of Future of Food. “These centers will advance open-source, sustainable protein R&D to benefit consumer choice while protecting our planet.”

“This effort is all about expanding the sustainable protein knowledge base and ecosystem,” said Rohan Shirwaiker, James T. Ryan Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at NC State, principal investigator on the grant, and co-director of the center. “The center’s capabilities and partnerships will add a new dimension to expand NC State’s biotechnology and advanced manufacturing expertise.”

The center will also provide more reasons for biomanufacturing firms to locate in North Carolina, generating jobs and economic growth. The grant funding will help prepare the workforce for jobs in advanced food technology through various university and community college partnerships, while industry partnerships will support food production and processing, including small companies and start-ups.

“This is a significant opportunity for North Carolina to not only be a state with a thriving animal-sourced foods sector, but also one where it is a powerhouse in complementary proteins, building new industry and driving economic growth for the state,” said Bill Aimutis, co-principal investigator on the grant and co-director of the new center who has extensive experience working with sustainable protein producers and start-up companies. “With the center we are looking to develop solutions that will provide greater diversity of choices for consumers that are both tasty and sustainable.”

NC State will work with academic partners N.C. A&T State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Duke University, and Forsyth Tech Community College on the research, workforce development, and community engagement efforts. More than 20 industry partners will also be part of the center, which will facilitate technology transfer and student internships and mentorships.

This announcement builds on the Bezos Earth Fund’s $1 billion grant commitment to help transform food and agricultural systems to support healthy lives without degrading the planet, which also includes efforts to reduce emissions from livestock.

More information on the center and its work is available.


This post was originally published in NC State News.