“When people think about environmental impact, they usually think of things like fossil fuels, transportation, and material products. Food usually isn’t top of mind, but it’s a huge part of sustainability. And there are so many ways for food tech to make a difference.”

That’s how Monica Mares has come to think about food tech. 

Monica joined Shiru back in May as a Senior Research Associate, Protein Analytical Chemist. As a member of Shiru’s High Throughput Screening team, Monica has the critical job of overseeing analytical operations for the quantification and compositional characterization of Shiru protein targets. The goal: find proteins that make for excellent food ingredients and can be mass-produced via precision fermentation

“I’ve been a vegetarian for almost half my life, and I’m really hoping Shiru helps move society closer to a point where animal farming is no longer needed, both for the welfare of animals and to eliminate the high environmental strain that industry produces,” she says.

“Monica brings unique and impactful experience in protein preparation and analytical methods to Shiru to build out our analytical capabilities,” said Chris Farwell, Senior Scientist for High Throughput Screening.  “These capabilities will enable characterization of diverse proteins that can replace problematic ingredients in our food system.” 

Monica supports her teammates more literally by belaying for them during Rock Climbing club meetings at Pacific Pipe climbing gym in Oakland.

The career path to food tech 

Monica graduated from San Diego State University with BS degrees in Biology and Environmental Science. Early on she had an interest in working towards finding ways to mitigate human impact on the environment. Her career in analytical chemistry began at Ferring Research Institute, where she conducted quality control and physicochemical assays on novel therapeutic peptides. 

“My career path into food tech was serendipitous,” says Monica. A friend referred her to Perfect Day, where she joined the Bio-Analytical team and helped develop protein and enzymatic assays in support of producing animal-free dairy protein. “Until then,” she says, “I was unaware of the emergence of this industry, but I am absolutely glad I am a part of it now because I believe in the mission of what we are trying to do.” 

Helping fuzzy friends

A few years ago, Monica moved into a neighborhood with a large number of feral cats. She decided to do something to help remediate the situation and became involved in trap-neuter-release (TNR), a humane approach to controlling feral and free-roaming cat population, through a rescue group called Island Cat Resources and Adoption (ICRA).

“Animal quality of life is important to me,” she says. “I’ve seen how tough street life is for feral cats – they’re lucky to live past five or six years. TNR is something I can do to help break the cycle of more kitties being born into that harsh life.”

Monica with a cat on steps

She continues to be a volunteer with ICRA to this day, where in addition to TNR, she also fosters and socializes cats and kittens, to help get them off the street and into forever homes through adoption. 

Monica isn’t hard to spot in the lab: She enjoys experimenting with hair colors, and her bold new looks bring variety and flare to the backdrop of glassware and automation. Outdoors, Monica stays active running, rock climbing, and putting miles on her bicycle. 

Her willingness to take on tough challenges extends beyond the lab, too. “I never turn down a good spicy food challenge,” she says.