Plant-based breast milk protein breakthrough excites infant formula makers

Posted by Aimee Chanthadavong on 19th November 2018

RESEARCHERS of an American-based company have manufactured proteins from green algae that are the same as those naturally found in human breast milk.

One of the proteins developed by Triton Algae Innovations is osteopontin, which during animal trials was found to have helped limit intestinal distress and fever.

According to Triton officials, as reported by Food Navigator, the new discovery has sparked enthusiasm among infant formula companies because it can potentially allow mothers who cannot breastfeed to use formula containing the same proteins as human breast milk.

Breast is best

However, Australian nutritionist Anneline Padayachee is sceptical about how these proteins may react once they’re mixed into baby formula, pointing out that baby formula can never replicate breast milk.

“The important thing to be aware of is concentration. What is the dose response in the formula? It’s one thing to say this protein is found in breast milk but at what concentration,” Dr Padayachee said.

“Nutrients also don’t work in isolation of each other. Breast milk is a whole food and is comprised of many bioactive compounds that work synergistically together, so we if were to extract one protein strain via algal production, how does it work with all the other ingredients in the baby formula and will it have the same effect?”

Dr Padayachee added that while it’s still very early days, the proteins may also be attractive for certain population groups, such as the elderly, who may want to consume it for muscle growth or maintenance.

Developing protein from algae however is not a world-first. Other companies such as Earthrise is using it for spirulina and TerraVia for protein powders.

Dr Padayachee said with the rise of plant-based diets, people are increasingly turning to alternatives.

“For whatever reason people can’t consume dairy proteins or animal-based foods, they will be most likely to be very open to plant-based proteins,” she said.

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