Can biotechnology offer an environmentally more sustainable alternative to egg white protein?
10 Jan 2022 --- Fungus-produced ovalbumin may potentially mitigate part of the environmental burden associated with chicken egg white powder. This is especially true when using low carbon energy sources in the production, according to research by the Future Sustainable Food Systems research group at the University of Helsinki together with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
“For example, more than half of the egg white powder protein content is ovalbumin. VTT has succeeded in producing ovalbumin with the help of the filamentous ascomycete fungus Trichoderma reesei,” outlines Dr. Emilia Nordlund from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
“The gene carrying the blueprints for ovalbumin is inserted by modern biotechnological tools into the fungus which then produces and secretes the same protein that chickens produce. The ovalbumin protein is then separated from the cells, concentrated and dried to create a final functional product.”
Taking the chicken out of the egg equation
Chicken egg white powder is a commonly used ingredient in the food industry due to the high-quality protein it contains. The yearly consumption of egg proteins in 2020 was around 1.6 million metric tons and the market is expected to expand further in the coming years.
The growing demand is raising questions about both sustainability and ethics. Parts of the egg white powder production chain, such as rearing chickens for egg production, generate large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and deforestation.
outbreaks of zoonotic diseases by serving as an important reservoir for human pathogens.Additionally, intensive chicken farming has resulted in
Global industry leaders have been quick to tap into the burgeoning demand for egg replacers. For instance, Israel-based ChickP recently unveiled its chickpea isolate as an all-purpose, nutrition-packed egg alternative for eggs in mayonnaise.
A recent survey of 6,000 consumers in Europe cited by Puratos notes strong potential demand for egg replacements, particularly in Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands. The global egg replacers market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.2% from 2017 to 2022, to exceed US$1.28 billion by 2022.
Alleviating industry’s reliance on resources
Cell-cultured products generally need more electricity than typical agricultural products, and therefore the type of energy source used affects the level of environmental impact.
However, the amount of agricultural inputs needed for ovalbumin production by microbes – such as glucose – is generally substantially lower per kilogram of protein powder.
“According to our research, this means that the fungus-produced ovalbumin reduced land use requirements by almost 90 percent and greenhouse gases by 31 to 55 percent compared to the production of its chicken-based counterpart,” says Doctoral Researcher Natasha Järviö from the University of Helsinki.
“In the future, when production is based on low carbon energy, precision fermentation has the potential to reduce the impact even by up to 72 percent.”
For the impact of water use on the environment, the results were less conclusive, showing a high degree of dependency on the assumed location of the ovalbumin production site.
In general, the study shows the potential of the precision fermentation technology to increase the sustainability of protein production, which can be further increased by the use of low-carbon energy sources.
Edited by Benjamin Ferrer
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