Arie Abo speaks to Amanda Jasi about using microorganisms as ‘cell factories’
Dairy-free alternatives are nothing new, with the likes of almond, rice, and soymilk stocking store shelves, as well as non-dairy cheese and yogurt. But imagine if it were possible to buy products that are not just dairy-free, but entirely cow-free.
The minds behind ImaginDairy did just that, developing precision fermentation technology to produce alternative milk proteins. Precision fermentation uses microorganisms as “cell factories” to create specific functional ingredients.
We spoke with Arie Abo, Chief Technology Officer at ImaginDairy, to learn more about the company’s milk protein-expression approach, existing bottlenecks and challenges, and the potential future for ImaginDairy’s technology.
Abo explains that there are six major proteins in milk that are important for dairy products, which are the focus of ImaginDairy’s production approach.
“There is no one that we know that produces all of the proteins in a commercial scale or capable of doing it at this stage. So, the approach that we took is to produce one protein at a time…using AI machine learning and wet lab experiments to identify solutions in the organism to produce one of the milk proteins in a commercial scale.”
The process developed by ImaginDairy relies on yeast and fungi to generate the six major milk proteins, Abo says. The gene which encodes the bovine milk protein of interest is inserted into a specific region of the microbial host organism’s genome, enabling it to produce and secrete the milk protein of interest without the cow.
During fermentation, the microorganisms secrete the protein into the surrounding media. In a batch process, after 4–5 days, the biomass is removed using centrifugation and the media is filtered and concentrated to harvest the “milk protein” solution. Calcium, vitamins, and other ingredients can be added to create a final milk product.
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