Fungus-produced albumin could be an alternative to chicken egg white powder, according to research by a team from the Future Sustainable Food Systems research group at the University of Helsinki in collaboration with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
Chicken egg white powder is a common ingredient used in the food industry due to its high protein content. Worldwide, we consumed about 1.6 million tons in 2020, and this value is expected to go up in the coming years. However, this growing demand raises questions about the sustainability of rearing chickens for egg production. This process generates large amounts of greenhouse gases and contributes to biodiversity loss and deforestation.
For these reasons, many research groups are working on developing sustainable alternatives to chicken-based products. A team of Finish scientists decided to test one such example. Cellular agriculture—also known as precision fermentation— offers a way to separate the production of high-protein products from animal farming by relying on a microbial production system to produce specific proteins instead.
“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. 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,” said Dr. Emilia Nordlund from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
It may be easy to conclude that these products are better for the environment, but the team from Finland know there are multiple factors to consider. For example, these cell-cultured products don’t rely on land but need more electricity than ordinary eggs, which means the type of energy used has a major impact on the final product. “According to our research, this means that the fungus-produced ovalbumin reduced land use requirements by almost 90% and greenhouse gases by 31–55% compared to the production of its chicken-based counterpart. 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%,” said Natasha Järviö from the University of Helsinki.
Overall, this study published in Nature showed the potential of precision fermentation technology to increase the production of high-protein products, such as egg white powder. According to the authors, this process can be further improved by using renewable energy sources.
(1) Järviö, N., Parviainen, T., Maljanen, NL. et al. Ovalbumin production using Trichoderma reesei culture and low-carbon energy could mitigate the environmental impacts of chicken-egg-derived ovalbumin. Nat Food 2, 1005–1013 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00418-2