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Microalgae-based fat closely replicates triglyceride composition in breast milk

Article-Microalgae-based fat closely replicates triglyceride composition in breast milk

© iStock/Reptile8488 Microalgae-based fat closely replicates triglyceride composition in breast milk
US biotech firm Checkerspot has developed a human milk fat analogue for infant formula that more closely replicates the triglyceride composition found in human milk than current alternatives such as palm oil, it says.

Its fat, oleic-palmitic-oleic (OPO) or sn-2 palmitate, which is produced by microalgae fermentation, is said to provide a superior alternative to palm, coconut, canola, and sunflower oils currently being used. These fats do not precisely replicate the composition of human milk as they do not reflect the unique positioning of the fatty acids’ glycerol structure.

However, Checkerspot believes its ingredient can improve the nutrient profile of current offerings.

“This breakthrough addresses a critical hurdle in infant nutrition by mimicking the unique structure of human milk lipid composition, characterised by a very high level of OPO,” it said.

“Improved fat structure can contribute to better digestion, nutrient absorption, and potential long-term health benefits for infants.”

Microalgal oil production platform and a two-step procedure core to approach

Infant formulas currently available in the market use substitutes that have varying levels of sn-2 palmitate, typically ranging from 39% to 65% of the total content of palmitic acid – the major triacylglycerol found in breast milk.

This falls below the level of palmitic acid in the sn-2 position observed in human milk, which is in the range of 70% of total palmitic acid.

A paper published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition goes on to discuss how the microalgal oil production platform and a two-step procedure produce a unique human milk fat analogue, which contains approximately 73% of total palmitic acid.

“We elucidate the methodology employed by our team and showcase the new ingredient we designed, highlighting its potential functional benefits in comparison with existing ingredients used to replicate the triglyceride composition found in human milk,” said Scott Franklin, chief scientific officer at Checkerspot.

“This achievement marks a significant stride in advancing the field, as detailed in our groundbreaking article.”

Addressing microalgae fermentation’s complexity, cost, and link to waste products

While the process of microalgae fermentation has been hailed for its nutritional benefits, questions still remain over its relative complexity, cost, and the production of waste products.

iStock/PhloxiiMicroalgae-based fat closely replicates triglyceride composition in breast milk

“Despite past perceptions, the production of oil from microalgae has undergone significant process advancements and is widely utilised by industry leaders to manufacture omega-3 or high-oleic acid oils,” said a spokesperson for Checkerspot.

“This progress is attributed to the remarkable yield and productivity achievable through optimal fermentation conditions. For perspective, a biomass containing approximately 70 to 80% oil on dry matter can be produced within three to five days. Waste products, including residual oil, proteins, simple sugars, fibres, and minerals, can be repurposed for human or animal nutrition, thereby maximising resource utilization, which can minimise environmental impact.”

Environmental and regulatory due diligence for the microalgal-based product

Along with an emphasis on controlled fermentation conditions, Checkerspot also highlighted the products’ adherence to environmental, social and governance that allowed for a highly traceable supply chain.

“Addressing critical quality issues in the oil and fat industries often revolves around supply chain management and process control. Fermentation-based oil production offers distinct advantages in mitigating environmental contaminants, thereby enabling high-quality oil essential for safe infant and toddler products,” the company said.

“While transparency in the supply chain is increasingly valued by environmentally and socially conscious consumers, particularly new mothers, our foremost concern remains the health and well-being of the youngest members of society.”

Seeking regulatory approval for US and EU

Checkerspot added that it was currently generating data to support a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notification in the United States and to seek approval as a novel food in the European Union.

“We are optimistic about further pursuing regulatory approvals in these jurisdictions and others in the near future,” the spokesperson said.