Mama algae: Researchers say they can manufacture proteins found in human breast milk
Triton Algae Innovations of San Diego said it has developed a proprietary method of producing recombinant proteins from green algae that are the same as those naturally found in mammalian breast milk, including humans, Food Navigator reported.
One of Triton's proteins, osteopontin, was found during animal trials to limit intestinal distress and fever and to have a positive impact on cognitive development, according to Food Navigator. The company uses Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a species of single-celled freshwater green algae grown in fermentation tanks, and introduces a gene into it using synthetic biology.
Triton, founded in 2013, said this development could disrupt the infant formula market. "These proteins already exist in nature, we're just creating them another way, and we're talking to a lot of infant formula companies, because they can really see the potential, so we'll work with them on the regulatory approval process, as we'll likely need a series of animal studies and that will take time," Xun Wang, president and CEO, told Food Navigator.
Whether Triton's protein products will be able to sufficiently scale up and become a game-changer in the infant formula market remains to be seen. The company told Food Navigator it is focusing on osteopontin because of the production capability work that still needs to be done and the regulatory clearances that need to be acquired, although it does have the ability to produce multiple proteins depending on the market.
Triton has already made a non-GMO and vegan algae ingredient containing protein, all the essential amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron and calcium, according to Food Navigator. Wang told the publication that the product is adaptable to snacks, nutritional bars, cereal, yogurt, juice, smoothies and sports and energy drinks.
An independent panel of experts determined the company's algae powder protein product to be generally recognized as safe in January, and Triton is waiting on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration response to the panel's conclusion. Should the company achieve a GRAS determination for its GMO protein products, it could eventually make a big impact on the infant formula market.
However, some consumers may not be willing to accept products containing genetically modified ingredients, especially when it comes to infants and young children. They also may be leery of products made from algae, although the ingredient is increasingly showing up in a variety of foods and beverages.
But Triton officials said they are finding enthusiasm among infant formula companies because the technology can deliver nutritional benefits — and potentially allow mothers who can't breastfeed to use formula containing the same proteins as human breast milk.
Triton isn't the only firm to adapt algae to protein uses. Hawaii-based Cyanotech Corp. is using spirulina for that purpose, and Corbion's Terravia makes protein products sourced from chlorella, according to Food Navigator. The future looks bright for additional items from this alternative and plant-based protein source.