As an iron-binding protein that plays an important role in the newborn immune system, lactoferrin has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activities.
And while bovine lactoferrin (from cow’s milk) has been approved for use in specialized infant formula in some countries, it’s not the same as the human version, and is very expensive to produce, says Boston-based Conagen, which has developed technology to produce a growing number of ingredients from CBD to vanillin via microbial fermentation.
Several novel approaches to producing human lactoferrin (minus the humans) have been tried before, including trying to express it in transgenic rice grains and the filamentous fungus Aspergillus oryzae, VP of R&D Dr Casey Lippmeier told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The biggest challenge has been doing this economically, but we’ve applied new techniques to make an approach using fungal systems much more economical, and now we’re looking for a commercial partner and we’ve having conversations with a number of infant formula companies.”
The breakthrough comes at a time of growing interest in the use of microbes (eg. yeast, bacteria, fungi, protists etc) to produce some of the sought-after components in human breast milk, from osteopontin to human milk oligosaccharides, said Lippmeier.
“Nourishing the world’s children is a priority for infant formula manufacturers. We want to support them for providing a lactoferrin as similar to breast milk lactoferrin as is possible with a low cost sourceable solution.”
San Diego-based Triton Algae Innovations is exploring algae as a production platform for proteins found in human breast milk such as osteopontin.
Instead of yeast or E.Coli, uses Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a single-celled freshwater green algae species that can grow heterotrophically in fermentation tanks, with the ability to express multiple proteins found in plants and mammalian cells including bovine and human osteopontin.
Breast milk is best. But for caregivers who can’t breastfeed, infant formula that contains at least some of the unique components in breast milk is the next best thing, says the co-founder of Berkeley-based start-up Sugarlogix, which is developing a platform to produce human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) identical to those found in breast milk, via microbial fermentation.