Conagen, a rapidly-growing Boston-based biotechnology firm, has established a novel and proprietary process for the scalable production of a non-GMO human milk oligosaccharide (HMO), an important nutritional compound only found in human milk. This micronutrition breakthrough will enable the creation of high-quality and cost-effective next generation infant formula products that most closely resemble human breast milk.
Human milk oligosaccharides are complex sugars that are naturally found in human milk. They are the third largest solid component in human milk after fat and lactose, and convey a variety of benefits. HMOs are responsible for directly stimulating the immune system by promoting good gut bacteria, strengthening the gut barrier function and blocking pathogens.
The most abundant HMO in human milk is 2’-fucosyllactose (2’FL.) Cow’s milk contains very little of this important compound, and for this reason the best infant formulas must be fortified with it in order to deliver the immune system benefits. Purifying this compound from either cow or human milk is obviously unsustainable, which is why Conagen researchers harnessed the technology of bioconversion for a sustainable non-GMO production process.
Unlike Conagen’s process, nearly all other HMOs on the market are produced by genetically engineered organisms. Conagen’s HMO product therefore offers source-sensitive consumers a pure, sustainable alternative ingredient for infant nutrition products.
“We leveraged our industry-leading technology for production of non-GMO certified natural sweeteners to instead make HMOs with simple enzymes rather than recombinant organisms. In this regard, our process resembles the way cheese is made,” said VP of Innovation, Dr. Casey Lippmeier.
Conagen is known for rapidly moving innovations from early stage research to commercialization. After a couple years of intensive research and development, the Conagen technology for producing this critical infant formula ingredient is ready for commercialization. Infant formula manufacturers can anticipate market entry of Conagen’s 2’FL in the next few months.
Beyond the use in infant formula, HMOs have potential in the dietary supplement market for immune boosting and sports performance for adults. Certain pharmaceutical applications may also be possible.
“We have made impressive investments in our capabilities for high-throughput, automated enzyme identification, design and screening. From this expanded platform, we were able to identify and improve upon an interesting natural pathway for the biosynthesis of 2’FL which is more efficient than established routes,” said Lippmeier, adding that, “A patent application has been filed on this process.”
Conagen’s HMO is not the first entrant in the market. Several companies are already in the market with 2’-FL and related infant formula ingredients. Manufactured ingredients for infant formula conform to the highest standards in the food industry. Safety, quality and evidence of efficacy are paramount.
Conagen is focused on introducing nature-based and sustainable ingredients which improve upon existing options or which represent completely novel ingredient solutions. This focus enables continued innovation in infant nutrition and dietary supplements.
As an example, earlier this year Conagen announced the development of a sustainable process for the production of the human milk protein lactoferrin, which when added to infant formula will convey most of the nutritional properties of lactoferrin from breast milk. The first-of-its-kind natural lactoferrin protein is produced via a fermentation process at commercial-scale. Lactoferrin is necessary as it plays an important role in the newborn immune system and contributes to healthy infant digestion and iron nutrition.
Conagen is making the impossible possible. Our scientists and engineers use the latest synthetic biology tools to develop high-quality sustainable nature-based products through systems of manufacturing on a molecular level and fermentation basis. We focus on the bioproduction of high-value ingredients for food, nutrition, flavors and fragrances, pharmaceutical, and renewable materials industries. For more information, visit www.conagen.com