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Could New Zealand Forests Be the Next Big Source of Sustainable Meat Alternatives?

Scientists in Italy are pioneering an unconventional approach to developing meat alternatives that could revolutionise our diet and the way we utilise industrial by-products. Their current focus is on transforming lignin, a typically discarded by-product of paper manufacturing, into a valuable source of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

Italian scientists at work looking for 'tree proteins'

The initiative, named "Meat from Wood," is spearheaded by Marco Vanon of the University of Milan-Bicocca and involves collaboration with The Protein Factory 2.0 laboratory at the University of Insubria. (Scientific team shown left)

The team's goal is to leverage new biotechnological processes to extract amino acids from lignin and wheat bran, another abundant waste product from flour production. This method could offer an economically viable and environmentally friendly protein source, potentially impacting other industries such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

This approach not only aims to reduce waste but also challenges conventional meat production methods, aligning with global sustainability goals.

The innovative use of lignin for protein synthesis was detailed by Elena Rosini of The Protein Factory 2.0, who described efforts to develop bacterial cells that can convert vanillin derived from lignin into amino acids.

Plant cellular structure

However, this project is particularly surprising given its Italian roots, a country traditionally known for its meat-rich cuisine and recent governmental skepticism toward lab-grown meat. Despite challenges, including legal hurdles at the national level, the research continues, fueled by potential EU regulations and growing interest in sustainable alternatives.

This development raises intriguing possibilities for places like New Zealand, whose vast forestry resources could similarly be leveraged to tap into this emerging protein source, potentially positioning the country at the forefront of a new, sustainable food technology.

PFN Ai depiction of trees being turned into meat steaks

Source: PFN Ai - Depiction of timber being used to create 'meat'

Could the future of meat indeed come from our forests? Only time and further research will tell.

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