Careers in the smart protein sector

As the smart protein sector in India continues to grow, individuals with a blend of scientific expertise and entrepreneurial spirit can shape its future.

Updated - September 10, 2023 02:42 pm IST

Published - September 10, 2023 08:46 am IST

There is a significant need for an infusion of scientific and engineering talent to bolster the smart protein sector’s R&D capacity.

There is a significant need for an infusion of scientific and engineering talent to bolster the smart protein sector’s R&D capacity. | Photo Credit: Freepik

If we plan to feed 10 billion people by 2050 without breaking the planet, reimagining how we produce meat is imperative. Animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to the ecological and climate crisis, accounting for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. A better food system is, therefore, vital in countries like India, which is home to one-sixth of the global population.

Smart protein is the solution to address the country’s escalating demand for protein and sustainably feed its growing population. Also known globally as alternative protein, these next-generation foods are made from plant-derived ingredients, microbial cell-based proteins, or by cultivating animal cells. They offer viable alternatives to traditional meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood by replicating the sensory and cultural experience of animal products while taking rearing animals for food out of the equation.

Getting started

There is a massive opportunity for Indian youth in new and emerging roles across R&D, manufacturing, investments, and venture building across the smart protein value chain. This nascent but burgeoning industry needs highly-specialised scientists, engineers, policymakers, entrepreneurs, marketers, and so on.

There is a significant need for an infusion of scientific and engineering talent to bolster the sector’s R&D capacity: more biologists studying and optimising plants, microbes, and animal cells for protein production; more engineers improving ingredients and bioprocessing techniques; and more food scientists combining these ingredients in novel ways to produce foods. Other opportunities across the value chain include functional ingredient providers, R&D consultants, co-manufacturers, venture capitalists, and branding and marketing agencies.

With paving the way for a new industry comes several regulatory challenges. This calls for more policymakers, lawyers, and regulatory professionals to build a clear path to market for the category, directing government incentivisation to the sector, and unlocking public investment. Non-profit organisations and think tanks can help by open-access knowledge resources, building programmes and advisory support and a community of stakeholders such as start-ups, investors, students and value chain partners.

Courses and programmes

International universities have launched high-impact elective coursework as part of their degree programmes. For instance, ‘Future Foods: Introduction to Advanced Meat Alternatives’ is an elective for third and fourth year undergraduate students of Food Science and Technology programme at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv University, and Ben Gurion University in Israel offer an elective course calledCultivated Meat and Plant-Based Meat’. Another option is ‘The Protein Transition’ open access course offered by Cellular Agriculture Australia.

While dedicated smart protein programmes in India are still up and coming, students can pursue degrees in relevant allied fields such as Agricultural an Plant Biotechnology, Food Science and Engineering, Biotechnology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering, Environmental Biotechnology, Industrial Biotechnology, and Synthetic Biology.

As the smart protein sector in India continues to grow and evolve, it is clear that individuals with a unique blend of scientific expertise and entrepreneurial spirit are needed to lead the change and shape its future.

The writer is a civil engineer who oversees talent development initiatives at the Good Food Institute India.

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