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Biotechnology and food processing

Biotechnology applications in food processing- How to benefit?

Biotechnology includes a wide range of diverse technologies and they may be applied in each of the different food and agriculture sectors. It includes technologies such as gene modification (manipulation) and transfer; the use of molecular markers; development of recombinant vaccines and DNA-based methods of disease characterisation/diagnosis; in-vitro vegetative propagation of plants; embryo transfer and other reproductive technologies. It also includes a range of technologies used to process the raw food materials produced by the crop, fishery and livestock sectors. It is an area that receives relatively little attention from the media, but which is very important for food security in many developing countries.

Biotechnology in the food processing sector targets the selection and improvement of microorganisms with the objectives of improving process control, yields and efficiency as well as the quality, safety and consistency of bio-processed products. Microorganisms or microbes are generic terms for the group of living organisms which are microscopic in size, and include bacteria, yeasts and moulds.

Fermentation is the process of bioconversion of organic substances by microorganisms and/or enzymes (complex proteins) of microbial, plant or animal origin. It is one of the oldest forms of food preservation which is applied globally. Indigenous fermented foods such as bread, cheese and wine and other fermented foods contribute to about one-third of the diet worldwide.

Fermentation is globally applied in the preservation of a range of raw agricultural materials (cereals, roots, tubers, fruit and vegetables, milk, meat, fish etc.). Commercially produced fermented foods which are marketed globally include dairy products (cheese, yogurt, fermented milks), sausages and soy sauce.

Food fermentations contribute substantially to food safety and food security, particularly in the rural areas of many developing countries. The process has been used for years and years together and has found acceptance conventionally. Needless to say that the potential for the application of biotechnology especially in developing countries from the point of view of food safety and fighting hunger is enormous and more sustained efforts and encouragement are required to give a fillip to the industry.

Even though fermentation technology has been used for many years in these countries, the output resultant from these technologies is not very high and there is a need to contribute research efforts in that direction to increase productivity. Besides a careful weighing of relative merits and demerits of each technology finding for consumption and toxin level is also required.

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