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Illinois ARCS Receives $14.8 Million Grant to Establish Centre for Precision Fermentation and Sustainability in Singapore

Courtesy of Unsplash
Courtesy of Unsplash

The Illinois Advanced Research Center at Singapore (ARCS), affiliated with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has secured a five-year, $14.8 million grant from Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) to create the Centre for Precision Fermentation and Sustainability (PreFerS). This new center, led by Professor Yong-Su Jin, aims to revolutionize food production through precision fermentation and microbial cell engineering.

Focus of PreFerS

The research at PreFerS will concentrate on converting readily available compounds such as sugars into valuable molecules, including alternative proteins, healthy fats, and vitamins. This process, known as precision fermentation, uses microbial cell engineering to transform basic compounds into essential nutrients. The primary goals of PreFerS include:

  • Enhancing food supply chain resilience: By producing essential nutrients locally, the center aims to reduce dependency on global supply chains.

  • Reducing environmental impact: Precision fermentation is expected to lower the environmental footprint of food production compared to conventional agriculture.

  • Addressing micronutrient deficiency: The center will focus on producing vitamins and other micronutrients to combat hidden hunger.

The establishment of PreFerS aligns with Singapore's objective to produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. Additionally, the research center aims to contribute to global food security and sustainability efforts, mitigating the climate impacts associated with traditional farming methods.

Courtesy of Illinois University

Germán Bollero, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, emphasized the potential of this collaboration. He stated that combining expertise from Illinois and Singapore could significantly advance precision fermentation technologies and sustainable food production.

Leadership and Collaboration

The leadership team of PreFerS includes distinguished professors from diverse fields such as bioengineering, food science, human nutrition, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and civil and environmental engineering. Key researchers involved in the project are:

  • Yong-Su Jin: Leading the initiative with expertise in microbial cell engineering.

  • Ting Lu, Michael Miller, and Vijay Singh: Bringing specialized knowledge in various aspects of bioengineering and food sciences.

The University of Illinois’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) supports PreFerS, alongside various stakeholders who played a critical role in developing the proposal. The Singapore-based research team includes affiliates from the National University of Singapore and other local institutions.

History and Future of Illinois ARCS

Since its inception in 2009, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has maintained a research presence in Singapore. In 2023, the center was restructured as Illinois ARCS to enhance collaborative research efforts. Besides PreFerS, Illinois ARCS also hosts the Trustworthy and Secure Cyber-Plexus for Digital Communities program.

PreFerS will be located at NRF’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) on the National University of Singapore campus, where Illinois ARCS offices are situated.

Professor Yong-Su Jin highlighted the significance of their work, stating, "By converting sugars and inedible parts of crops into healthier foods, we can take what is already provided in plants and use it to create a more balanced, nutritious, and good-tasting diet." He emphasized that this research could play a crucial role in improving human health and addressing food supply inequities globally, without exacerbating climate change.

This initiative represents a promising step towards sustainable and resilient food systems, leveraging advanced biotechnological research to meet future nutritional needs.


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