The company said the micronutrition breakthrough will enable the creation of high-quality and cost-effective next generation infant formula products that most closely resemble human breast milk.
HMOs are complex sugars 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 compound, and for this reason the best infant formulas must be fortified with it in order to deliver the immune system benefits. Purifying the compound from either cow or human milk is unsustainable, which is why Conagen researchers said they harnessed the technology of bioconversion for a sustainable non-GMO production process.
“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.
After a couple years of research and development, the Conagen technology for producing the 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, who added a patent application has been filed on the process.
Conagen said it is focused on introducing nature-based and sustainable ingredients that improve upon existing options or which represent completely novel ingredient solutions. This focus enables continued innovation in infant nutrition and dietary supplements.
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.