Royal DSM unveils artificial intelligence laboratory to drive biotech innovation

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags biotech Fermentation

Artificial intelligence is key to improving sustainability in the food chain, believes the global life sciences company.

The Dutch multinational has just unveiled an AI laboratory in collaboration with the Delft University of Technology. The aim is to drive bioscience innovation and deliver a wide range of food ingredients and food products rapidly at commercial scale with a view to helping solve global challenges, such as climate change, healthy nutrition for the world’s rapidly growing population and raw material scarcity.

The Artificial Intelligence Lab for Biosciences (the Lab) will be part of the Dutch National Innovation Center for AI. According to DSM, the laboratory is the first of its kind in Europe where AI is being used during the entire biotechnological process, from microbial strain development to process optimization and scheduling.

DSM will invest €2.5 million into the lab in the first five years. It believes rapid developments in the understanding of biology, as well as major advances in digital transformation, are opening up exciting possibilities for new bio-based products, applications, and manufacturing processes.

Professor Marcel Reinders, Director TU Delft Bioengineering Institute, said: ‘’Biotechnology can contribute significantly to solving major societal challenges, such as climate change, healthy nutrition for the world’s rapidly growing population, and raw material scarcity. AI plays a crucial role in the development of biotechnology applications, but – scientifically speaking – there are still many unanswered questions at the cellular, lab, and process level. By linking our fundamental research to concrete opportunities at DSM, we can maximize our impact.”

The benefits of biotechnology

DSM claims its solutions can reduce the carbon footprint of its customers by 80%. The company says it is leveraging biotechnology to use microorganisms – such as algae, fungi and bacteria – to produce molecules, such as vitamins or lipids, from raw materials like sugars and plant extracts. Through biomanufacturing it can turn these molecules into sustainable, biobased products and solutions such as dairy alternatives and plant-based protein solutions. “Biotechnology offers benefits in terms of flavour, health and nutrition, texture, safety and shelf life,”​ a spokesperson from the DSM laboratory told FoodNavigator. “Our biotechnology is able to deliver a wide range of food ingredients and food products, from baking enzymes that deliver a softer, 'just baked’ feel in bread to gluten-free bread and beer; to meat substitutes; to lactose-free milk; to sugar-reduced beverages.”

Accelerating innovation

AI, meanwhile, can further serve to speed up NPD and innovation, the company says. For example, scientific research is traditionally based on trial and error within multiple sub-studies that work together toward a specific objective, such as a new product or production technology. What makes AI unique is that it allows scientists to invert this process. Integrating biosciences and digital technologies, it says, can help to reduce the time spent on innovation cycles, from prototyping to scaling and commercialization.

The lab is designed to allow the speed up of innovation, for example, through the development and application of highly-accurate AI-based models of microbes, bioprocesses and the combination of both. An important aspect of the Lab is the exploration of AI methods all the way from microbe-level to a full factory scale, with applications ranging from strain development and application development to fermentation process control and scheduling.

AI methods can help biomanufacturing in multiple ways for innovation and full-scale operation. One way is to find patterns in data to guide optimization processes in R&D, for example in automated strain characterization and development projects. Another aspect is the speed-up of calculations, where AI-based models allow for real-time optimization and adaptive steering of processes based on highly accurate models, so-called Digital Twins, taking into account microbial behaviour in a full-scale bioreactor while simulating flow patterns and oxygen and sugar gradients and acting on real-time process-sensor data.

“By applying AI, we aim for more efficient operation of our processes, but also improved quality control of our products – for example through particle size modelling and control during product formulation processes like drying,” ​the spokesperson added.   

The laboratory also aims to stimulate open innovation and collaboration between start-ups, corporations, and knowledge institutes to develop bio-based products and solutions.

“The foundation for DSM’s expertise comes from our 150-year heritage in biotechnology and fermentation – and those technologies are improving and evolving all the time​,” the spokesperson added.

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