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24 Aug 2022

‘We saw huge potential to disrupt the market’: biotech firm creates ‘world-first’ cultivated bovine lactoferrin

‘We saw huge potential to disrupt the market’: biotech firm creates ‘world-first’ cultivated bovine lactoferrin

Lactoferrin – a bioactive protein derived from cow’s milk – has numerous benefits for everyday consumers. The ingredient has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties and can also improve iron absorption and gut health to enhance physical performance and recovery.

But lactoferrin is found in very low concentrations in cow’s milk, and it could cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to obtain a kilogram of product. The fluctuating cost has made its use in everyday food manufacturing impractical, with the ingredient traditionally used in the pharmaceutical and infant formula industries.

But US and Singapore-based biotech firm TurtleTree has developed a method to produce the sought-after protein at greater efficiency and volume, enabling up to 100 times higher yield.

“Current bovine lactoferrin in the market is obtained through the purification of cow’s milk,” TurtleTree’s chief strategist Max Rye told DairyReporter.

“Yet, cow’s milk contains lactoferrin in only very low concentrations - 100mg/1L to be exact - which hence requires the processing of large amounts of milk to obtain this precious protein. This explains the high price of lactoferrin. At the same time, when we have to rely on emissions-heavy cattle farming to obtain this high-value protein, the whole process becomes highly unsustainable.

“We hence saw this huge potential to disrupt the nutrition market by producing lactoferrin at scale, and sustainably, through precision fermentation.”

The result of an 18-month R&D project is LF+, a product which the company says is ‘the world's first sustainable bovine lactoferrin created using precision fermentation technology’.

Precision fermentation uses microbial hosts for the mass production of ingredients. In the case of LF+, TurtleTree screened different microorganisms during its research, selecting those that had been used for GRAS food ingredients are were suitable for large-scale production and able to produce the target protein.

“We then had to work on increasing our yield while ensuring that the product met the technical specifications suitable for adult nutrition,” Rye explained. “We have also had to continuously streamline the process development to get it perfected for scaled-up production in large-sized fermenter tanks.”

Target markets & production objectives

By 2025, the company aims to produce 200,000kg of lactoferrin through contract manufacturing partners and via TurtleTree’s own precision fermentation facility.

The first two target markets for LF+ are the US and Singapore, with the company currently working with the relevant authorities to obtain food safety approvals. “We’re actively engaging the SFA through the FRESH agency in SG, and are working closely with consultants familiar with the US Food and Drug Administration to prepare our safety dossier for our GRAS conclusion,” said Rye.

“We expect to reach our GRAS conclusion by Q3 2023 for the US adult market, and attain SFA approval by the end of Q4. Following that, we will pursue both SFA and US FDA approval for our GRAS conclusion for infant nutrition.”

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