By 2050, only 30 years from now, we will reach a global population of 9.7 billion people for which the biggest threat will not be COVID-19 but the rise of antibiotic resistance causing 10 million deaths every year. But how do we ensure healthy plants and animals, without using antibiotics, to feed everyone in 2050?
In our research, we address the opportunities for applying chitooligosaccharides (COS) in sectors such as food, feed or pharma. These unique agrobiologicals can both enhance sustainable crop protection but can also be used as an antibiotic substitute in fodder increasing the overall performance of young animals. Industry is searching for scalable and economically viable production technologies that can deliver structurally perfectly defined COS as it has become increasingly apparent that many of the biological activities ascribed to COS hinge on highly specific effector-receptor interactions (lock-and key theory: a specific COS-structure is the key and a natural plant or animal receptor is the lock).
At this moment, we have developed a platform for the biotechnological production - using microbial cell factories (MCFs) - of pure and structurally defined COS, referred to as monoclonal COS (mCOS) which can now be produced in gram to kilogram amounts and in high purity, sufficient for their testing in real-life industrial scenarios. In a next phase, a convincing proof-of-concept, i.e., product, needs to be provided. For this, our MCFs and fermentation processes will be optimized to further decrease production costs and hence market entry. The valorization potential of these mCOS-molecules is already acknowledged by several industries. In conclusion, specific and well-defined COS can be produced which will offer our customers in the food and feed market an exclusive, cheap and microbial-based technology for the development of reproducible and better-performing biostimulants and functional feed additives.