Big data for future food

Karen Hung • November 30, 2018

Big data for future food cover image

Big data continues to be a hot topic these days. It’s responsible for what we read in our facebook feed and what we are greeted with on our Netflix home screen. Big data literally means large volumes of data, usually digital data, which is analysed and interpreted by companies to extract more valuable data.

“Well, I am not on social media and I don’t watch Netflix, so it has nothing to do with me right?”

Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Big data is transforming industries far and wide and it is affecting our lives in many aspects. Its benefits reach further than just tracking human behaviour online to increase advertising profits. It has already been used for example in agriculture and farming. United Nations predicted by 2050, food productions would have to be increased by 70% to meet population demand. The world needs greater efficiency and better harvest in agriculture and farming.

Thousands of images from drones and satellites are being analysed, for monitoring the crop performance and tracking livestock. Farmers are getting a better understanding of climates, as climatic parameters and soil conditions are monitored at millions of locations. This vast amount of data is being interpreted to provide solutions and suggestions to maximise product output.

How do we apply Big data on cell-based food production?

Research and development

Scientists are still finding ways to produce various future foods with sustainability and to scale up the production ready for manufacturing. Screening and testing on numerous parameters, for example, medium, serum, coculture and structures, involve countless amounts of data, which needs to be processed through big data analysis.

There are 2 cell sources for animal-based cultured meat, which are the immortal cell lines, or the biopsies from animals. Both of them require very careful monitoring on their cell differentiation. Recent generations of high throughput machines, and the development of large-scale multi-omics approaches enable the use of big data in cell biology, particularly stem cell research. Researchers collect data on transcriptomes from stem cells, at different time points throughout their development and provide information on the identity, lineage and differentiation of individual cells.

Quality control

To date scientists have achieved mass production in a bioreactor for up to 5 litres of cells, but there are potentials to scale up to 5000 litres. To handle the data, especially that about food safety, from 5000 litres bioreactors, the use of big data analysis is definitely an advantage. Even the WHO has recognised the advantage of using big data in food safety, and have set up a database “FOSCOLLAB”. The platform provides data on toxicogenomic, which is the genomic data from food-borne pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes.


Acceptance of future food among consumers is still open to debate. The general public have so far not responded very well to lab-grown products, because they are unnatural, and have even been referred to as “Frankenmeat”. Many organisations have run projects powered by big data regarding consumer habits of conventional meat products. It is now common for data related to purchasing, preparation, retail and consumption of food, to be integrated into business models. Having a more complete business model will help to increase acceptance and awareness of future foods.

There are absolutely inevitable challenges such as costs, and talents, but it is a future trend which gives a comprehensive picture on the development of future food.