Earlier this week, OSU announced it had agreed to license natural polymer Ropy 352 on a non-exclusive basis to a "global market leader for dairy starter cultures."
Unlike other polymers commonly used to thicken products, the patented polymer may also add probiotic characteristics, said OSU.
The development of Ropy 352 began in the early 1990s when a microbiologist at OSU discovered a polymer - produced by non-disease-causing bacterium - with an ability to "rapidly thicken milk."
"This is one of many naturally occurring, non-disease-causing bacterial strains my research program isolated and studied for years," said Jane Trempy, an OSU microbiologist.
"We discovered that this bacterium had a brand-new, never-before reported grouping of genes for a unique polymer that naturally thickens milk," she said. "In basic research, we've also broaden our understanding of how and why non-disease causing bacteria produce polymers."
"In the case of a dairy thickener, for instance, a bacterium such as Ropy 352 ferments the sugar in the milk and produces a substance that changes the milk's properties," Trempy added.
To date, Trempy and her colleagues at OSU have determined that Ropy 352 thickens whole milk, non-fat milk, lactose-free milk, coconut milk and rice milk
It also appears to give fermented foods a "smooth, thick, creamy property" and may initially be used in the production of sour cream, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, cream cheese and artisan soft cheeses, OSU said.
Applications may also exist in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, fruit juices, cosmetics and personal care products, it added.