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Amid food security concerns, Chinese scientists have developed a method to create protein using methanol derived from coal, a study has revealed.

Chinese scientists used around 20,000 samples of yeast collected from vineyards, forests, and marshlands across the country to arrive at a successful alternative to meet the demand for animal feed, and the process has been initiated at an industrial scale, daily South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

The world’s second-largest economy is heavily dependent on imports of tens of hundreds of tons of soybeans required in animal feed.

“Coal, with a global reserve of about 1.07 trillion tons, can be converted into methanol through coal gasification. Methanol mixes well with water, offering high efficiency in fermentation processes compared to gaseous substrates and eliminating the need for specialized fermentation equipment,” Professor Wu Xin wrote in China Science Bulletin.

Wu leads a team of scientists at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

After it developed a protein production technology — cheaper than traditional protein biosynthesis – the scientists “identified strains capable of efficiently using various sugars and alcohols as carbon sources.”

It is not yet known where the scientists have begun demonstrations and producing thousands of tons of this protein.

“They engineered a yeast with significantly enhanced methanol tolerance and metabolic efficiency. This engineering dramatically boosted the targeted conversion of methanol to protein,” the report said.

“… And the methanol-to-protein conversion efficiency reached 92% of the theoretical value,” according to the CAS.

Since the conversion rate is high, it “makes this protein production method very attractive economically.”

“It doesn’t require arable land, is unaffected by seasons and climate, and is a thousand times more efficient than traditional agricultural practices,” Wu said.