WUR contributes to new Perspective projects for millions of euros

December 13, 2023

WUR researchers are involved in two new extensive research projects launched by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) as part of a consortium. The projects in which WUR participates focus on extracting tasty proteins from plants and building better organic factories.

Perspectief (perspective) is a programme created by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. The programme challenges researchers to develop broad, multidisciplinary consortia with the business sector, societal organisations and administrations.

The goal is to conduct research on societal challenges and key technologies, which are technologies at which the Netherlands excels and in which scientific and economic growth is expected for the coming years.

Better organic factories

A circular bioeconomy produces less waste, uses fewer toxic substances, produces fewer emissions and utilises its resources frugally. The fungi and bacteria required to substitute the current (petro) chemical process cannot produce sufficient useful substances under certain industrial conditions, such as in the presence of solvents, under high temperatures or acidic conditions.

The consortium will modify one type of fungus and two bacteria strains to efficiently and economically produce bioplastics, aromas and flavouring agents and substitutes for plant-based oils such as palm oil and sunflower oil.

"Our mission is clear," says Martins dos Santos. "We aim to craft robust and tailor-made cell factories that open up new possibilities in industrial biotechnology." With the new project called INDUSTRIOPHILE (tailored and robust cell-factories for the next-generation Industrial Biotechnology), Martins dos Santos collaborates with 26 partners, including universities, societal organizations, and companies. "The project is a collective commitment to build a sustainable future and creating economic opportunities for the Netherlands."

The budget for this project, including co-funding, amounts to 6.9 million euros. The consortium is led by Prof. Dr ir. Vitor A.P. Martins dos Santos from WUR and is made up of the following parties:

  • Knowledge institutes: HAN University of Applied Sciences, Groningen University, RIVM, TU Delft, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Wageningen University & Research
  • Businesses: ADM GmbH, ALTAR, EV Biotech, Gecco Biotech, Ingenza Ltd, Isobionics (BASF), KraftHeinz, Mitsubishi Chemical UK, NPI
  • Other societal partners:, BiotechAcademyDelft, BiotechBooster, DSMZ, ELIXIR, IBISBA,
  • Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management,, UNLOCK

Tasty plant proteins

Over one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions originate in the food production chain. If we substitute the animal-based proteins in our diet with plant-based alternatives, a substantial reduction of these emissions is possible.

Additionally, plant-based proteins are healthier. However, the currently available plant-based alternatives for dairy and meat lack the desired flavour, texture and nutritional values. Fermentation is a promising technology to improve this, but it is based mainly on trial and error.

The project FERMI (FErmentations optimized by Rational Models to
Improve plant-based substrates) aims to improve the predictability of fermentation processes in order to find the optimal production process for tasty, healthy and sustainable plant-based foodstuffs.

The transition from dairy and meat products to alternative plant-based food products is a comprehensive process that requires acceleration and reinforcement, according to Richard Notebaart and Eddy Smid, project leaders from WUR. "A successful transition can only be achieved through close collaboration between academic institutions and businesses, combining the necessary expertise," Notebaart states.

The budget for this project, including co-funding, is 5.3 million euros. The consortium is led by project leader Dr. Herwig Bachmann (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam). Consortium partner: Dr. Richard Notebaart and Prof. Dr. Eddy Smid from WUR. The consortium consists of:

  • Knowledge institutes: TU Delft, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Wageningen University & Research
  • Businesses: Arla, Brannatura, Chr. Hansen, Ferrero, FrieslandCampina, IFF, Mediterranean Food Lab, NIZO Food Research, Roquette, Upfield