As the realm of genetic modification/engineering has expanded, the marketplace is becoming increasingly inundated with the products of new genetic engineering techniques. Many of these new products are the result of a specific type of genetic engineering – synthetic biology, or synbio for short – which involves the genetic modification (primarily through the use of CRISPR) of microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria to exploit them for what they do naturally in order to produce novel products.
Accompanying these new products is a new vocabulary, one – it might be argued – that is designed to obfuscate the fact that these products are in fact the result of genetic engineering. Some of these terms are familiar; others are brand new. They include precision fermentation (genetic engineering/synbio), animal-free dairy (synbio dairy), flora (genetically modified yeast), and the newer bee-less honey (synbio honey) and bean-less coffee (synbio coffee). It should also be noted that some developers refer to their synbio products as being plant derived, focusing on the feedstock that is used during the fermentation process rather than the genetically engineered microorganism. This feedstock is often glucose derived from genetically modified corn, which is sometimes referred to as corn sugar or corn syrup.
Today, we’ll introduce two of these new synbio developers and their products.
MeliBio is using genetic engineering to create bee-free synbio honey. However, on its website, the company states that their honey is derived from plants. Founded in 2020, MeliBio received $850,000 in initial seed funding in 2021. According to the company, the reason for creating a “sustainable honey” is to save wild and native bee species.
MeliBio has not revealed the specific microorganism that it has engineered to allow it to produce its honey, but another developer of bee-free honey revealed that it was using the bacteria Bacillus subtilis to create its synbio product.
As with some other synbio products or ingredients, the launch of MeliBio synbio honey into the consumer marketplace was initiated via food service through offerings at two restaurants, one in San Francisco and a second in New York City. Thus, it’s unclear how bee-free honey will ultimately be identified on ingredient panels.
However, it is interesting to note that in 2018 guidance issued by the FDA, honey is defined as “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants and store in honeycombs.” Although an ingredient panel for the honey remains elusive, the company claims that all of the components of its genetically engineered honey are GRAS.
Compound Foods/Minus Coffee
Compound Foods (Compound) was founded in 2020 with the goal of creating coffee without coffee beans – or bean-less coffee – through the use of synthetic biology. In 2021, the company announced that a seed funding round had netted $4.5 million.
It appears that the company is using synbio to fine tune their coffee flavor profiles. In late 2022, Compound announced the launch of its first product, Minus Coffee. The company acknowledges that even though the product contains no coffee, it is still able to be called coffee because there is no official definition of “coffee.”
At present, it appears that Minus Coffee is only available through e-commerce, selling for $24 for a pack of four 250-ml (approx. 8.5-oz.) cans.
The Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family.
Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.