Egg protein… from bioengineered potatoes?

Yet more amazing foodtech out of Israel – biotech company, PoLoPo, has petitioned the USDA for approval of a GM potato that produces ovalbumin, a future hedge against egg price and availability concerns.

PoLoPo, an Israeli molecular farming pioneer, has submitted an application for Regulatory Status Review to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the first step toward regulatory approval for a GM potato that can produce egg protein.

For food processors reeling from wildly fluctuating egg prices, supply chain instability and avian flu outbreaks, “The production of ovalbumin in plants, not animals, will transform food processing with a price- and supply chain-stable option and set off a domino effect on sustainability,” said Maya Sapir-Mir, CEO of PoLoPo.

The company’s SuperAA platform “turns the potato plant into a micro-biofactory derived from proprietary metabolic engineering techniques.”

The potato plants manufacture the target proteins in the plant and store them in the tuber. Tubers are harvested when they reach sufficient size, then their proteins are extracted and dried into a powder “that integrates seamlessly into current food processing lines and formulations,” the company said.

While derived from genetically engineered plants, the resulting protein powder contains no genetic material and is considered non-GMO, according to the company.

If granted – PoLoPo expects approval in about six months – USDA approval will establish that the company’s platform poses no agricultural or pest risk compared to traditional potato growing. Then PoLoPo will look for US partners and local growers.

PoLoPo says it’s the first Israeli molecular farming company to seek US regulatory approval.

PoLoPo’s protein soon will be available to the food industry for testing.

Source: Food Processing

More about this intriguing technology

PoLoPo, which is based on Kibbutz Gan Shlomo in central Israel, was created by CEO Maya Sapir-Mir (left) and co-founder and CTO Raya Liberman-Aloni in 2022. The name translated from Hebrew means “here, not here” – a reference to growing proteins in an unexpected location.

The company creates ovalbumin (the main protein in egg white) from open source sequencing and using its new proprietary SuperAA platform, inserts it into the potato, says PoLoPo co-founder and

“One of the most important things for us is that the plant itself grows normally,” Sapir-Mir says. “Firstly, so that the farmers know how to [handle] the crop, and so that we don’t affect the growth factors – the timing and the length of the growth and the yield.”

In fact, she says, the modified version is almost identical to growing unmodified potatoes. The main difference is that while potatoes are usually mainly laden with starch, the modified ones also contain the egg protein. 

“Sometimes they also look a little different – they’re not specifically round,” she says. “But it doesn’t affect the growth of the plant.” 

Sapir-Mir explains that the process of extracting the protein from the harvested potatoes is also very similar to the long-established process of extracting starch from them. 

In fact, she says, this is one of the reasons why the company chose to work with potatoes. The only real difference is that the created protein is more delicate than starch and so more care must be taken in the extraction process.  

Once the potatoes are harvested, they are crushed to produce the juice from the liquid-dense vegetable (both cooked and raw potatoes are more than 75 percent water). 

The starch is extracted first from what Sapir-Mir says is called the “potato juice,” leaving behind a mixture made up of the egg white protein and the potato’s own protein.  

And while the potato’s protein content is lower than ovalbumin, the US National Center for Biotechnology Information describes it as being of good quality, with high biological value.  

Once extracted, the company transforms the protein into a powder, which can then be sold on an industrial scale for use as an ingredient in food. PoLoPo is strictly a B2B company, Sapir-Mir says. 

According to the Allied Market Research organization, the egg protein market is set to reach an annual worth of $38.9-billion by 2026. Its industrial value lies not just in its nutritional value but also in its use as an emulsifier, thickener and gelling agent. It is also used in animal feed and cosmetics.

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