Checkerspot Unveils “Breakthrough” for Baby Formula: Human Milk Fat Analog Made Using Microalgae Fermentation

California’s Checkerspot, a biotechnology firm that produces renewable oils by fermentation of microalgae, announces the development and large-scale production of fat analog that the company claims mimics the human milk fat known as OPO (Oleic-Palmitic-Oleic or sn-2 palmitate). 

According to the company, this “breakthrough” achievement will revolutionize infant nutrition with essential lipids that contribute to better digestion and nutrient absorption and potentially offer long-term health benefits for infants.

Making a human milk triglyceride

Checkerspot has developed a technology that can accurately modify specific fatty acids in a living organism to create triglyceride structures with precise distribution at the molecular level. This capability allows for the production of OPO’s analog.

The biotech has also been able to scale its fermentation platform, allowing for the production of fats at a commercial scale, thus securing supply chains. In addition, the company explains that producing structured triglycerides through fermentation allows for precise control and high-quality results, allowing the traceability of ingredients. Checkerspot plans to conduct further safety evaluations to comply with market regulatory requirements.

“Microalgae function very much like higher plants when it comes to lipid metabolism. Successfully making a human milk triglyceride in our system posed a formidable challenge because it goes completely counter to its normal lipid metabolism,” said Scott Franklin, CSO at Checkerspot.

baby bottle and milk with clipping path
© Else Nutrition

The lipid challenge in baby formula

Checkerspot explains that it is incredibly challenging to replicate the composition of human milk triglycerides, which are characterized by high levels of OPO.

Many companies produce human milk fat substitutes, such as sn-2 palmitate, but the amount of triglycerides in these substitutes is lower than in human milk. Moreover, to adjust the lipid content, infant formula companies use palm, coconut, canola, and sunflower oils to create formulations with a fatty acid profile similar to human milk. However, these oils do not mimic OPO.

The firm’s landmark scientific achievement has been published in Frontiers In Nutrition: Development and Large-Scale Production of Human Milk Fat Analogue by Fermentation of Microalgae.

“Our published work details the innovative approach we undertook to address this challenge.  We obtained a unique human milk fat analog containing palmitic acid in sn-2 position in the range of 73% of total palmitic acid. This achievement marks a significant stride in advancing the field, as detailed in our groundbreaking article,” adds Franklin.

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