Cell Culture Technology Shows Potential for More Sustainable Egg White Protein Production

New research by a group from the University of Helsinki shows that egg white protein produced by fungus using precision fermentation technology could offer a way of lessening the environmental impact from production by chicken.

Eggs

Eggs

It was the first evaluation of the impact that the production of the fungus Trichoderma Reesei can have on the environment. Researchers found that the use of biotechnology drastically reduced land use requirements as well as greenhouse gases, compared to the traditional method.

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The study, which was done in conjunction with researchers from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, was published in the journal Nature Food.

Sustainability and ethical concerns

Egg white powder is widely used in the food industry. Its popularity is a result of its high-quality protein content.

The demand for this ingredient is growing. In 2020, total annual consumption was estimated at roughly 1.6 million tons. There is also an expectation that the market for egg proteins would increase further in the years to come.

However, sustainability and ethical concerns have been expressed in light of the growing demand.

The process of producing chicken egg white powder causes substantial greenhouse gas emissions while also creating water scarcity. It is also linked to deforestation and the disruption of biodiversity.

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There is a health angle to these concerns as well. Intensive chicken farming can and does, lead to zoonotic disease outbreaks that can have adverse effects on humans.

These concerns have increased interest in finding sustainable alternatives for production. Precision fermentation, also known as cellular agriculture, provides a way of relying less on chicken and more on technology for egg white proteins. It involves the use of a microbial production system.

Reducing environmental impact

In this research, scientists produced ovalbumin with the aid of Trichoderma Reesei, a filamentous fungus. They inserted the gene needed for ovalbumin production into the fungus using biotechnological tools. The fungus proceeded to generate and secrete egg white proteins similar to those produced by chickens.

Ovalbumin constitutes more than half of the protein content in egg white powder, according to VTT’s Dr. Emilia Nordlund.

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Researchers observed that cell-cultured products tend to use more electrical power than average agricultural products. However, energy sources decide how much impact production would have on the environment.

For each kilogram of powder, the number of agricultural inputs required for producing ovalbumin using precision fermentation technology was greatly lower.

“According to our research, this means that the fungus-produced ovalbumin reduced land use requirements by almost 90 percent and greenhouse gases by 31-55 percent compared to the production of its chicken-based counterpart,” said Natasha Järviö, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki.

This suggests that biotechnology could help to ease the environmental problem linked to egg white powder production. The impact on the environment could be further reduced with the use of low-carbon energy sources.

Järviö added that the precision fermentation technology could cut environmental impact by as much as 72 percent at some point. However, that depends on production being done with low-carbon energy.

Findings on the environmental impact of water use were not significant.

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References

Ovalbumin production using Trichoderma Reesei culture and low-carbon energy could mitigate the environmental impacts of chicken-egg-derived ovalbumin

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