Meet the researcher: filamentous fungi and seafood with Leonie Jahn
4 July 2022
There needs to be more interaction between the worlds of food and science, according to a researcher working with a Michelin star restaurant to develop fish-free seafood.
Name: Dr Leonie Jahn
Job title: Tenure track research and Co-PI for the Microbial Food group
Organisation: Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark
Sustainable protein specialism: Fermentation-made seafood
There needs to be more interaction between the worlds of food and science, according to a researcher working with a Michelin star restaurant to develop new ways of creating sustainable seafood.
Leonie Jahn leads a team at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). The scientists are working on a Good Food Institute-funded project creating a new product by growing fungi on seaweed.
Her team will look into how the texture of filamentous fungi – microorganisms found in soil and other environments which form a mass of intertwining strands – can be used to create a range of sustainable protein products.
The group will eventually create a ‘whole-cut’ product recreating the texture of seafood, and will work with Diego Prado, head of research at Copenhagen’s Alchemist restaurant, to recreate the flavour of a seafood dish. If the method proves successful, the product may feature on the two Michelin star restaurant’s menu, and could also go on to be used more widely.
Leonie became fascinated with the opportunities presented by filamentous fungi when she researched them for her bachelor’s thesis while studying biology at the University of Münster.
After staying at Münster for a master’s programme studying how environmental changes can affect yeast genes, and completing a PhD at DTU looking into how microorganisms become resistant to antibiotics, she decided to apply her scientific knowledge to developing new types of sustainable food.
Changing the food system
But as a long-standing vegetarian, her interest in this space goes back much further.
Leonie said: “I’ve had the thought that I could use science to help change the food system and make it much more closely aligned with planetary and human health.
“I would love to contribute to something that could change the world, and the food system is a place where new products can have a major impact in terms of sustainability.
“I’m very fortunate that I can do something that merges my personal passion with my career. Working with food adds a whole new dimension to my daily work – it’s very exciting because food is something that everyone has a personal connection with.”
The interaction between her team and the Alchemist is critical to her project, as she believes scientists and chefs need to work more closely when it comes to developing sustainable protein products.
She said: “There are companies that are approaching this from a culinary perspective and there are companies that are approaching it from a science and technology perspective, but there needs to be a merger between these two approaches if we’re to make products that are really convincing and that people like to consume.”
Advice for young researchers
Leonie’s belief in the importance of connecting the worlds of science and food runs through to the advice she offers other researchers interested in getting involved in sustainable proteins.
As well as taking advantage of online resources, such as those offered through the GFI website or Copenhagen’s MAD Academy, she advises people to get experience, either as interns for sustainable protein startups, or even by working in kitchens.
She said: “There are a lot of ways of getting involved in both worlds – for example, there’s a number of scientists working as chefs in top restaurants. Hands-on experience is really important when it comes to changing how food is designed.
“The food world and the science world really need to understand each other better and work more closely together. These two worlds aren’t at opposite ends of the spectrum – there’s a lot of overlap between how people work as chefs and how they work as scientists.”
Are you interested in getting involved in the sustainable protein field? Take a look at our resources.
If you’re a researcher:
- To find funding opportunities, check out our research funding database for grants from across the sector, and our research grants page which showcases funding available from GFI.
- GFI Europe and EIT Foods have launched the Cultivated Meat Innovation Challenge, which will award up to four teams €100,000 each for projects that can drive down the cost of cell culture media – one of the most significant challenges to scaling up production.
- Explore our Advancing Solutions initiative, which highlights the main sustainable protein knowledge gaps, and subscribe to the collaborative researcher directory, which provides details of potential collaborators or supervisors with a stated interest in the field.
- Find out about research projects that have already been funded on our research grants tracker or our grantee web pages.
- Look out for monthly science seminars run through our GFIdeas community or use our company database to identify commercial partners.
If you’re a student:
- Find educational courses around the globe through our database.
- Sign up for our free online course introducing the science of sustainable proteins, explore our resource guide explaining what is available to students, and check out our careers board for the latest job opportunities in this emerging field.