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Interview - Running around with Erlenmeyer flasks filled with yeast

In order to achieve a more sustainable food system, the food industry has to come up with new, environmentally friendly products. One aspect is producing proteins for meat substitutes. Bachelor’s student Rose Vossen modified, grew and studied different yeast strains to see whether they can be used to produce protein for food products.

Rose Vossen

The Industrial Microbiology lab in Delft did not have a plan laid out for Rose’s bachelor’s project. She brainstormed with her advisors to find a suitable project. ‘At first I panicked about this situation, but it turned out great. I loved the freedom I was granted’, she says. Studying protein producing yeast was a perfect fit. ‘I am interested in the food industry, especially in producing new meat substitutes.’

‘I was a vegetarian for about a year. But the last two months I have been eating meat again, once a week’, Rose admits. ‘I just love meat. That is why I am interested in the development of sustainable meat substitutes.’

Mutating yeast

After a deep dive into yeasty literature Rose decided to focus on a specific gene of the protein producing yeast studied in Delft. For that gene there were mutations found which could lead to higher protein production. To study the effect of these mutations she developed a technique using the molecular tool CRISPR-Cas. ‘With CRISPR-Cas I cut the yeast DNA to replace the specific gene with a mutated version’, Rose explains. ‘This way I produced different strains, each with a different mutation. I let those grow and tested them to see whether they did indeed produce more protein.’

The method sounds straight forward, but creating, growing and testing in just three months is quite a challenge. ‘It would usually take longer. Everyone advised me not to grow and test all of them. But I really wanted to see how they all did. With some luck, and by planning everything well, it worked.’ Rose was quite relaxed. ‘It was mainly a logistical challenge to carry sixteen Erlenmeyer flasks around the lab, trying to get everything done at the same time.’

‘I truly believe that biotechnology can help solve a lot of problems.’

‘The day we made the most progress was when I started at eight in the morning and left the lab at midnight. The Dutch soccer team was playing that evening and we listened to the match in the lab. After working all day it was amazing to look through the microscope that night, finally being able to see the yeast cells. It was great, but afterwards I was wrecked.’

Further testing

Rose’s results were promising. However, because of the limited time she could not grow as much and do as many tests as she had hoped. ‘To be able to draw bigger conclusions about the protein production, it will have to be grown in larger volumes and be tested more extensively. But, provided there is enough time, I truly believe that biotechnology can help solve a lot of problems.’

Rose Vossen, Life Science & Technology

‘If you asked me a year ago whether I would want to work as a researcher in a lab, I would definitely have said no’, Rose Vossen says jokingly. ‘But after enjoying my bachelor’s project this much, I might consider it.’ For now Rose’s focus is on something completely different. As chair of S.V. LIFE, the study association for and by Life Science & Technology students, she has some big events to plan. ‘We are organizing a symposium about personalized medicine in May and a Fermentation Festival, with a beer brewing contest, in June.’ In September Rose starts a master’s.

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