“Fermentation is a fantastic green technology with infinite powers”, according to Christine M’Rini Puel, R&D Director at Lesaffre.

Arrival in early 2022 at Lesaffre to lead R&D, 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.

Originally a doctor-scientist, Christine M’Rini Puel was since 2019 vice president of research and innovation at Danone, for all health and natural science subjects in the specialized nutrition division (infant milk and medical and specialized nutrition). She now has a strategic position at Lesaffre.

Historically, Lesaffre has supplied yeast to bakers and bakers. Where is this activity and are others expanding?

Christine M’Rini Puel – We work with yeast, bacteria and also phages. Two-thirds of Lesaffre’s commercial activities are based on its history of developing baking yeast. This activity will necessarily continue, as bread is a relatively durable food; it’s not expensive, it’s natural, a source of nutrients and calories that can be described as “green” compared to other food sources. Lesaffre also concentrates 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 aromas such as vanillin or ferments with organoleptic benefits for brewing. Customized drying of yeast and bacteria is also part of our activities.

What is the outlook for fermentation in the food industry?

CM- The power of fermentation is infinite. Through it, very specific proteins can be made that achieve an amino acid profile and/or bioavailability when absorbed by the human body identical to animal proteins. Fermentation also makes it possible to produce, in addition to proteins, very specific molecules with high added value, such as the oligosaccharides normally found in breast milk. Human breast milk contains thousands of them whose benefits range from anti-infective defense to brain development or infant digestive well-being. Fermentation now makes it possible to produce about fifteen of them, five of which are produced on a large scale and marketed. Producing strains and molecules on a large scale is an excellent skill at Lesaffre, which has fermentation tanks in its factories that can hold up to 220,000 liters.

How can France and the EU help the development of this technology?

CM – In France, there are ambitious initiatives, such as “Ferments du futur”, to which Lesaffre is affiliated, and which take advantage of the great French fermentation and research potential on the subject and its advantages in relation to bioproduction. However, one of the major challenges that France and Europe must 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 a problem: I think especially about the place of women in the engineering and/or bioengineering sector, which will contribute to the development of these technologies. The work to develop an increasingly sustainable, economic, circular process that reveals the potential of living organisms with possible consequences in such diverse applications as human, animal and plant health, fossil fuel replacement and others should make it possible to attract the younger generations, i.a. young girls, eager to search for meaning and positive effects. We have to encourage them.

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