Berkeley Lab Chef-Bioengineer Biohacks Fungal Genes to Discover New Possibilities in Flavors and Textures

As published in Nature Communications, UC Berkeley is pioneering research into sustainable protein sources to foster a smarter food industry. Utilizing advancements in genetic engineering, researchers are tapping into microorganisms to develop cruelty-free and environmentally friendly products.

Fungi, recognized for their rich nutritional content and natural production of proteins, fats, antioxidants, and flavor molecules, are at the forefront of these innovations.

Chef-turned-bioengineer Vayu Hill-Maini, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is exploring how genetic modifications in mushrooms can introduce new flavors and textures. His work, particularly with the multicellular fungus Aspergillus oryzae (koji mold), involves utilizing CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to enhance the mold’s qualities as a food source, including increasing heme and ergothioneine production for health benefits and improved taste.

Mushroom mix
© sasazawa –

The start of leveraging fungal genomes for novel food creation

This research signifies the start of leveraging fungal genomes for novel food creation, aiming to overcome the limitations of current meat substitutes and cultured meat by providing simpler, cost-effective protein sources. The CRISPR-Cas9 toolkit developed for this purpose is a key advancement for editing complex fungal genomes, which have been less utilized compared to single-celled organisms in food production.

Hill-Maini’s culinary background fuels his ambition to make mushroom-based products that are both delicious and appealing to discerning consumers. Collaborating with chefs at the two-Michelin-star restaurant Alchemist, he explored the culinary uses of Neurospora intermedia, a fungus used in Indonesian cuisine, showcasing its potential in transforming simple ingredients into gourmet dishes.

Access the full paper here.

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