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plant cells

Environment: ENEA “serves” the food of the future

Nutritious, tasty and sustainable. It’s the plant-based food ENEA is creating with the aim of offering healthier and more sustainable foods, battling the impact of climate change which threatens soil, health, quality and productivity of plants and, therefore, food security. It’s the so-called 'cellular agriculture', i.e. the production - starting from plants of agronomic interest - of foods with a wide variety of molecules useful for health, without soil erosion and loss of biodiversity.

As highlighted at the World Economic Forum, by mid-century- given a 50% increase in global food demand- climate change could reduce global crop yields by up to 30% and it will be essential to identify alternative production systems.

Cultivated in controlled environments, plant cells offer an innovative and quality food biomass, based on production models that allow us to overcome the problems of  low agricultural productivity and  limit the exploitation of natural resources like land and water, reducing the production of waste and the use of plant protection products, in line with the recommendations of the European Green Deal for 2030.

These foods are produced with a consolidated technology that has allowed the extraction of pharmaceutical principles by exploiting the enormous natural biochemical dowry of plant cells.

Starting from a plant explant of interest and exploiting the characteristics of plant cells, their multiplication is obtained in a liquid culture, wa process which can take place in bioreactors similar to those employed for the yeast used to produce bread and beer.

Consumed 'fresh' and not necessarily processed, the new food could also be useful in Space, responding to the need to make future crews autonomous from supplies from Earth and help them deal with extra-terrestrial conditions with soilless growth systems.

There is evidence that these foods can develop nutritional, sensorial and digestibility values similar to, or better than, their plants of origin. Other benefits for the consumer include beneficial molecules in the form in which they are found naturally - the so-called phytocomplex - without resorting to added foods with risks to food safety. From plant cell cultures it will also be possible to obtain fresh foods (for example, in the form of compotes and ingredients for smoothies) and, as shown by some prestigious international studies, there is evidence that drinks and processed products like chocolate can also be produced.

This new production system would allow companies to rid themselves from climate or seasonal variations and to create more programmable and flexible, standardized and continuous production of plant material, to be integrated with the agricultural production of excellence of the territories.

 “In the future it will be increasingly difficult to supply the population with foods derived from plant raw materials in sufficient quantity and quality,” pointed out Silvia Massa, researcher at the ENEA Biotechnology Laboratory. “Even an expansion of cultivated land is unpractical. Therefore - said Massa - a problem arises of identifying new systems to supply vegetable raw materials for a healthy and safe diet".

Furthermore, the possibility of modulating the accumulation of substances useful for health according to growth parameters opens the way to the manufacture of 'personalised' foods.

ENEA, through its Biotechnology Laboratory of the Biotechnology and Agroindustry Division, has been conducting studies on plant production, plant cell cultures and production and extraction of bioactive molecules in plant production systems for years. In collaboration with the Bioproducts and Bioprocesses Laboratory, it combines these studies on the one hand with the development of processing techniques such as micro-encapsulation through spray-drying, to preserve the nutritional characteristics of plant cells and, on the other, the creation of investigations into consumer attitudes towards this consumption model.


For more information please contact:

Silvia Massa, ENEA - Biotechnologies Laboratory,