The future for food is looking brighter.
In the coming decade, it may become more profitable to eat animal fats and oils in place of animal proteins, according to new research published Monday in the journal Cell.
The findings, which appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that the future of animal protein will largely revolve around fats and waxes, which can be processed and stored more efficiently than proteins.
In other words, the production of a food is more than a process.
“It’s not just about the food,” says the study’s lead author, James Fuchs, an evolutionary biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
“The key point is that the cost of food is coming down, the cost per kilogram of animal products is coming up.”
“This is a huge opportunity,” Fuchs says.
The new study finds that a key reason for the rise in animal protein consumption is that it has become cheaper to make.
“We can now make a product that’s 10 times cheaper than it was 20 years ago,” Fuss says.
Fuchs and his colleagues studied the effect of changing the composition of a plant’s body fluids on the efficiency of converting protein to fat.
The body’s fat stores contain fats and lipids that are highly soluble in water and are used by plants to form fatty acids.
They found that making plant fats more efficient at converting protein into fat led to an increase in plant protein consumption, as well as an increase of animal fat consumption.
In addition, the animals’ bodies were able to process more animal fat and wax into more calories and more energy.
Fuss and his team then studied how the efficiency for converting the plant fats into fat and for extracting animal fat from waxes improved when the plants had evolved new proteins to replace the old proteins.
The researchers found that the new proteins, called proteases, were able, in part, to replace old proteins with new proteins that could digest and use the plant lipids.
In their paper, the researchers say that the proteases can replace the plant proteins, making them more efficient and more accessible to animals.
“They’ve been able to do it by making new proteins for their own use,” Fuch says.
But even if the proteins were less efficient than the old ones, Fuchs believes the proteins could still be used in the future, for other purposes.
For example, the new plant proteins can help animals to better digest food, which would require the production and storage of plant proteins.
Fuch and his co-authors suggest that they could also be used to make more nutritious, but still animal-derived foods.
“If you’re making animal-based foods, there are certain proteins that are better suited to these purposes,” Fushts says.
“In the case of these protein complexes, the plant can help it to digest, but the protease could help it extract the protein, and so on.”
Fuss hopes that by 2020, animal-free foods will be available to the public, so the cost will fall.
Fumes says the next step in the evolution of animal-fat-based food is to study how the proteins are used to manufacture new protein-based materials.
For instance, the proteas could be used for other applications, like biofuels or in the production, storage and transport of other animal-source materials, such as fishmeal.
“There are lots of uses that could be made with animal fats,” Fumbles says.
For more on the study, see the story in the April 20 issue of Science.