Synthetic Biology Test Could Force the Natural Products Industry to Define Its Position

Melaina Juntti

Meatless Impossible Burgers that “bleed” just like the real deal. Creamy dairy-free ice cream made with Perfect Day’s nonanimal whey protein. Dietary supplements containing “nature-identical” astaxanthin, resveratrol or collagen made from fermented yeast, bacteria or other microorganisms.

These and many other tech-spawned products have flooded the market in recent years, even penetrating the natural products industry. They are often touted as the next frontier of food and supplements, positioned as perfectly safe and more environmentally responsible than their counterparts made the old-fashioned way. Now, new testing technology that quickly tags ingredients that were touted as “nature identical” could force the natural product industry to declare a position.

But what the companies pushing these products often don’t disclose—at least not in clear language—is that they are made with synthetic biology, synbio for short, or genetic engineering 2.0. Synbio involves using CRISPR and other gene-editing tools to reengineer microorganisms to generate products through fermentation that they’d never produce naturally. Prime example: heme, the blood dripping from those Impossible Burgers.

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