Despite decades of global population growth, the world is once again facing a looming food crisis. The severe reduction in food productivity can be attributed to prolonged abnormal weather patterns caused by intensifying climate change. Additionally, the global food supply chain has been compromised by international conflicts such as wars, exacerbating food shortages and creating nutritional inequality across the globe. Interestingly, amidst this crisis, there is a rising awareness of the environment and sustainability, leading to an increased demand for eco-friendly and high-quality food and beauty products.
Microorganisms offer promising solutions as cell factories for producing various food and cosmetic ingredients. However, the commercialization of microbial-based food and cosmetic compounds is currently limited due to the insufficient performance of microbial strains and processes.
To address this issue, systems metabolic engineering emerges as a powerful tool to enhance the performance of microorganisms.
A review published in Nature Reviews Bioengineering showcases remarkable cases of microbial cell factories capable of producing amino acids, proteins, fats and fatty acids, vitamins, flavors, pigments, alcohols, functional compounds, and other food additives used in various foods and cosmetics. Several companies have successfully commercialized these microbial-derived materials. The review also delves into the phases of systems metabolic engineering, including production mode and host selection, metabolic pathway reconstruction, tolerance enhancement, metabolic flux and fermentation process optimization, downstream process integration, and scale-up. By optimizing these phases, the development of high-performance microbial processes can be significantly improved.
Applying systemic metabolic engineering strategies, researchers have developed numerous high-performance microbial cell factories that produce a variety of food and cosmetic compounds. These include natural substances like heme and zinc protoporphyrin IX compounds, which enhance the flavor and color of synthetic meat, as well as lycopene and β-carotene, functional natural pigments widely used in food and cosmetics. Another example is methyl anthranilate, a grape-derived compound widely used to impart grape flavor in food and beverage manufacturing.
Furthermore, the authors highlighted metabolic engineering strategies that promote microbial cell factories that can produce more diverse food and cosmetic compounds in an eco-friendly way with economic feasibility.
The review also outlines the current limitations and future directions for industrializing microbial processes in the production of food and cosmetic compounds