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George Monbiot and others have been advocating for something called 'precision fermentation', where instead of growing macro fauna and flora, we cultivate micro things like yeast to grow food.

There's a quote that got me thinking of this question: "Monbiot sees it as a gateway to a whole new cuisine. Just as the first people to domesticate cows weren’t thinking of camembert, he says, we have no idea the new types of food this could give us in the long run."

It's the sort of food system that might exist in a polluted future where everyone is forced into arcologies, e.g. after a nuclear war, and there's no fields for agriculture, no ecology, just vats growing food. Judge Dredd type world. Or space stations for that matter, which rarely have fields.

Some links on precision fermentation –


Some thoughts about what we know yeast can do: Bakers' yeast and brewers' yeast convert sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide. This says, "Various yeast species have been genetically engineered to efficiently produce various drugs, a technique called metabolic engineering....A wide variety of chemical in different classes can be produced by engineered yeast, including phenolics, isoprenoids, alkaloids, and polyketides." I'll keep doing research on these and see what else I can find.

Basically my question is: what substances can be produced by yeasts? Which vitamins, flavours, textures, etc. are known or suspected to be amenable to this kind of production?

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    $\begingroup$ Trivial answer is "yeast," yeast 'agriculture' by definition can produce only yeast, see the comment from @storymode for a link that details its nutritional and other content. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Feb 18, 2023 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ -1 for lack of research. A Google search for "yeast based cuisine" yields pages of recipes involving yeast. If you're trying to treat yeast like mushrooms, (another type of fungus) you're out of luck (and -1 again for not researching that simple-to-find fact). With rare exception, humans use yeast because it chemically does something useful to other foods, and isn't a food, per-se, itself. Your Q is a bit like asking what a Vanilla-based agriculture can produce. It can produce one thing: vanilla. What you can do when you combine vanilla (or yeast) with other foods is amazing. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 19, 2023 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ You didn't read my question @JBH , which was specifically about the kinds of precision fermentation that could exist in the future, not about existing uses of yeast in baking etc. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Feb 19, 2023 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Your comment (and -1) just show your ignorance in the field of biotechnology... Not to mention, we use yeast as food in some cases - if kefir isn't a yeast food, then tomatoes are not a food, but something that chemically did something useful to other foods (in potates' case, soil)... $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Feb 20, 2023 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ if you have a space shortage the last thing you want is a consumer based agriculture, you want a producer like plants or algae. yeast has to be fed a producer at a nearly tenfold loss. I suggest looking at algae based agriculture if you want to grow food in vats. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 21, 2023 at 1:16

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Marmite

"That's not what I meant!". True, this is a trivial answer. All the same, Marmite will never have been cheaper.

Couples like my wife and I, where one partner smothers their toast in a thick, glossy, salty, useless-B12-analogue containing dark blanket, while the other puts on the smallest fraction of the already tiny amount on the tip of a knife, now have even more differences in this matter. The divorce rate actually does tick up, but by too small an amount to be proven by a t test and thus is considered an urban myth.

New Zealand and Australia now have 20 different brands, not 5 (including both Marmites)*. Australians are still heathens and prefer Vegemite over either Marmite.

The UK's still got the same range but in bigger jars, so not much has changed except that George Monbiot's pieces in the Guardian now decry the evil Tories for not enforcing humane cultivation of yeast.

America has moved another tiny step closer to civil war; the blue states embraced their own yeast spread because overseas countries all did (even though the version they embraced is ghastly and would be thrown straight in the bin anywhere else). The red states insist that it's ghastly and should be thrown in the bin...and that the UK, Australia and NZ are morons for liking their versions.

  • The UK and NZ have rival Marmite companies.
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Why stop at yeast? There are many other microorganisms that can be used to produce nutrients. And microbe-based food production is not just something that might exist in a polluted future, it's already here: Quorn is one example. Fermentation can be used to produce a protein-rich mass, but what can be made out of it is up to the cook's imagination.

Microbes can also be genetically modified to make proteins and other biomolecules they don't naturally produce. There are efforts to produce e.g. chicken egg albumin (egg white) this way, though it has not yet been commercialized.

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More conscientously:

Sci fi yeast could give great flavour control and/or produce biomolecules in large quantities that current fermentation can't. It can't produce new crops and it probably can't produce macromolecules.

So: You can produce nutritionally fortified drinks or doughs or variants on current fermented products with whatever flavours you like. You won't get radically new textures or food forms.

You can't feed your arcologies with it alone; you still need some sort of base crop. Like most of George Monbiot's prescriptions, this needs to be taken with a very large grain of salt and is probably only appropriate in some sort of sci fi future USSR if applied too widely.

But nutritionally fortifying some sort of high yield crop could be very useful. Supplemented wheat, corn or potatoes might be the way. Or even nutritionally balanced transformed sugar water.

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Anything! But just because we can doesn't mean we should

We can make yeast to produce almost any molecule other organisms can create. With the development of food 3d printing (and there were some advances in recent years) it is possible we will se first proper 3d printed food on our shelves in a few years. Those 3d printers need molecular stock, and yeast can make that. And in time, we will be able to make food with more or less any texture and taste.

BUT! Why should you use yeast? Sure, now it is easier to create certain molecules in yeast than in bacteria (because yeast are eucariontes, so genetical engineering is simpler), but in time, we should be able to modify cyanobacteria to do the same. Because for food production you need photosynthetic organism to convert solar energy into chemical one. If you use yeast then you have another link in the chain (sunlight-cyanobacteria/algea-yeast-3d printer), when you can have cyanobacteria produce your desired molecules. It would be way more efficient. Sure, we would need a few decades of development more, but it's not like we will stop using tradicional crops anytime soon.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeast could maybe be engineered to photosynthesise: plantphysiol.org/content/154/2/593.full $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Feb 20, 2023 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Making yeast be autothrop is way way harder than making cianobacteria produce various chemicals. It's not only inserting chloroplasts and some genes, you would most likely have to edit the cell wall as well. And I wager quite a bit other things as well. I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't easier to create a new organism de novo. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Feb 20, 2023 at 13:57
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Some examples I've found:

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