Shirwaiker Co-leads Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein

Original Article by Mick Kulkowski at University Communications

Today, the Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein launched at North Carolina State University. ISE’s Rohan Shirwaiker, a co-director of the center along with Bill Aimutis, expressed his excitement about the initiative. The Bezos Earth Fund awarded NC State $30 million over five years to lead a center of excellence aimed at creating a biomanufacturing hub for environmentally friendly, healthy, tasty, and affordable dietary proteins. The Earth Fund’s commitment of $100 million establishes a network of open-access research and development centers focused on sustainable protein alternatives, expanding consumer choices.

The center plans to collaborate with partners from academia and industry to conduct research, develop innovative technologies, and commercialize sustainable protein solutions. It will also provide training for the emerging industry workforce and gather insights into consumer preferences regarding protein.

Chancellor Randy Woodson acknowledged NC State’s unique position as a land-grant university in a state with significant animal agriculture, emphasizing its role in shaping the future of sustainable food production. He expressed gratitude for the support from the Bezos Earth Fund, which will drive economic and workforce development in sustainable protein production.

Protein is essential for human health, and as the global population grows, ensuring access to environmentally responsible protein sources becomes increasingly important. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Earth Fund, highlighted the urgency of finding ways to feed a growing population without degrading the planet.

The grant funding will support research on three main types of sustainable proteins: plant-based products, precision fermentation for food formulations, and cultivated meat grown from animal cells. The aim is to reduce prices, enhance flavor and texture, and ensure the availability of nutritious and affordable protein options.

As co-director of the center, Rohan Shirwaiker is committed to expanding NC State’s biotechnology and advanced manufacturing expertise. The center’s partnerships and capabilities will significantly contribute to advancing sustainable protein research and development.

Moreover, the initiative is expected to attract biomanufacturing firms to North Carolina, leading to job creation and economic growth. Collaborations with university and community college partners will prepare the workforce for advanced food technology jobs, while industry partnerships will support food production and processing, benefiting small companies and start-ups.

By working closely with academic and industry partners, including N.C. A&T State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Duke University, and Forsyth Tech Community College, the center aims to drive innovation, technology transfer, and workforce development.

This announcement builds upon the Bezos Earth Fund’s broader commitment of $1 billion to transform food and agricultural systems. Together, they strive to support healthy lives without degrading the planet, with a particular focus on reducing emissions from livestock.