“Fermentation is a great green technology with infinite powers,” said Christine M’Rini Puel, R&D director at Lesaffre.

Arrived in Lesaffre in early 2022 as Head of Research and Development, Christine M’Rini Puel shares with the yeast giant the idea that fermentation is one of the answers to the challenge of healthy eating on a global scale.

Christine M’Rini Puel, originally a doctor and researcher, has been Vice President of Research and Innovation at Danone since 2019 for all health and science topics in the Specialized Nutrition department (infant milk and medical and specialized nutrition). She now holds a strategic position at Lesaffre.

In the past, Lesaffre has supplied yeast to bakers and pastry manufacturers. Where is this activity and are others expanding?

Christine M’Rini Puel – We work with yeasts, bacteria and also phages. Two-thirds of Lesaffre’s commercial activities are based on its history of developing bakers’ yeasts. This activity necessarily continues, since bread is a relatively durable food; it’s not expensive, it’s natural, a nutrient and calorie source that can be described as “green” compared to other food sources. Lesaffre also focuses its efforts on complementary activities such as human, animal and plant health or even industrial biotechnologies with research into second-generation bioethanols. We also produce flavors such as vanillin or ferments with organoleptic benefits for brewing. Our activities also include the customer-specific drying of yeasts and bacteria.

What are the prospects for fermentation in the food industry?

CM- The power of fermentation is endless. This allows very specific proteins to be produced that achieve an amino acid profile and/or bioavailability when ingested by the human body identical to animal proteins. In addition to proteins, fermentation can also be used to produce highly specific molecules with high added value, such as the oligosaccharides usually found in breast milk. Human breast milk contains a thousand of these, with benefits ranging from fighting infection to brain development to infant digestive well-being. About fifteen of these can be produced today through fermentation, five of which are produced and marketed on a large scale. Large-scale production of strains and molecules is an excellent skill of Lesaffre, which has fermentation tanks in its factories that can hold up to 220,000 liters.

How can France and the European Union support the development of this technology?

CM – In France there are ambitious initiatives such as “Ferments du futur” in which Lesaffre is involved, exploiting the great French fermentation and research potential on the subject and its advantages in terms of bioproduction. However, one of the major challenges that France and Europe have to face remains the supply of raw materials, for which they are still dependent on other countries today. Finally, I would like to say that gray matter is also an issue: I am thinking in particular of the position of women in the engineering and/or bio-engineering sectors, which will contribute to the development of these technologies. Work to develop an increasingly sustainable, circular economy that demonstrates the potential of living organisms with potential impacts on applications as diverse as human, animal and plant health, fossil fuel replacement and others should make it possible, including the younger generations to attract young girls eager for meaning and positive impact. We have to encourage them.

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