Cellular agriculture is a technique of producing animal-derived goods without the need for animals, which might be better for the environment than conventional agriculture. It has been used to produce meat and human milk from cell culture, with cell-cultured seafood likely to be next on the menu. Apart from cell culture, precision fermentation may be used to produce animal proteins from microorganisms, such as the cows milk proteins casein and whey.
Global egg production has almost doubled in the last 20 years, and cell agriculture might be a platform for a more sustainable way to meet consumer demands. Onego Bio has recently received funding to commercialize their precision fermentation technology for egg white without chickens.
Bioalbumen, a chicken-free egg white protein, has the potential to be an ingredient in confectionery and baking, or it could be used as a protein supplement.
We met with Maija Itkonen, CEO of Onego Bio, to discuss the foundations of bioalbumen''s development.
Katie Brighton (KB): Can you explain the principles of cell agriculture? How does it work? What impact might it have on food production?
Cellular agriculture is a way of extending food production into traditional agricultural systems. The only difference is in how they are made. Cellular agriculture is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use.
KB: What benefits do we have from using cellular agriculture more than traditional farming, e.g., the possibility of producing egg white?
MI: A retrospective life cycle study was carried out to investigate the impacts of Trichoderma-derived ovalbumin (Tr-OVA) production with an equivalent functional unit of dried chicken egg white protein. Tr-OVA production showed the potential to significantly reduce other agricultural impacts, such as global warming and land use. Switching Tr-OVA production location and using low-carbon energy sources could also mitigate environmental impact.
How did Onego Bio first approach to producing bioalbumen?
MI: We are a spin-off from VTT, a research company that has studied the possibilities of producing animal proteins with cellular agriculture for the last six or seven years. Trichoderma research has a long history at VTT.
The project was developed as part of Finnish VTT''s LaunchPad before it became a spin-off company. VTT LaunchPad is a science-based spin-off facility where VTT researchers and technology collaborate with industry leaders and investors to revitalize their businesses. VTT LaunchPad is a partner company that is also involved in transforming VTT''s own IPR into fundable spin-off businesses.
What were the key findings that entaild using fermentation to produce bioalbumen?
MI: From the start, precision fermentation was a natural choice for this technology. Unlike beer production, however, the technique can be compared to beer production. Microflora is fed sugar to produce alcohol.
How does the bioalbumen compare to the animal-derived egg white in terms of flavour, texture, quantity, etc.?
MI: The protein itself is identical, and therefore the flavor, texture, and methods of using it are equally identical.
Cost-wise, we are still at the laboratory level, but when we move to industrial production, we anticipate a cost that is the same or even lower than an animal-derived egg white.
KB: What are the next steps to take before bioalbumen is released? What are the potential hazards associated with this process?
MI: Every novel product must go through the regulatory procedure, which is designed to protect individuals. Depending on the market, it may still take months to years to get the commercial approval for the product. However, we are positive about bioalbumen, as it is a known protein made with a known process, just the combination of product and process is new.
Are there other animal-free proteins you intend to develop next?
MI: The bioalbumen is currently being mainly addressed today!