Environment

Fungus-made protein may be an eco-friendly alternative to egg whites

Fungus-made protein may be an ...
Like traditional egg white powder, the fungus-derived ovalbumin (pictured) has excellent foaming properties
Like traditional egg white powder, the fungus-derived ovalbumin (pictured) has excellent foaming properties
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Like traditional egg white powder, the fungus-derived ovalbumin (pictured) has excellent foaming properties
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Like traditional egg white powder, the fungus-derived ovalbumin (pictured) has excellent foaming properties

Egg white powder is a very widely used food ingredient, which means that a lot of hens have to be raised on a lot of farms, consuming a lot of feed and producing a lot of waste. There may soon be a greener alternative, however, thanks to a fungus which produces a key egg white protein.

In a study conducted by the University of Helsinki and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, scientists genetically altered filamentous Trichoderma reesei fungus so that it would produce and secrete ovalbumin, which constitutes over half of the protein content in egg white powder.

They did so by isolating the chicken gene responsible for producing ovalbumin, inserting it into the fungus, harvesting the secreted protein, then concentrating and drying it into a powder. When tested, that powder exhibited many of the same desirable qualities as egg white powder, such as the ability to foam up.

Additionally, the scientists state that as compared to raising hens for their egg whites, production of the fungus-derived ovalbumin should reduce land use requirements by nearly 90 percent, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 31 to 55 percent.

They have yet to determine precisely how much energy would be required, but believe that it should be substantially less than is currently required by chicken farms. If low-carbon energy sources were to be used, the researchers estimate that the reduction in greenhouse gases could be as high as 72 percent.

A paper on the study was recently published in the journal Nature Food.

Source: University of Helsinki

5 comments
5 comments
TechGazer
I'm guessing that they chose that specific fungus for convenience in a first trial. With more experience, they might be able to produce that and other useful proteins from other fungi that can be grown on waste feedstock (landscape trimmings, straw, etc). If they can develop the process as shipping container sized units, farms could turn their waste into food or industrial ingredients, and then turn the process waste back into soil.
Eddy
But will it also be good substitute for making Pavlova.
Altronix
Why bother. You can use the "water" from tinned chickpeas, which is usually considered to be a waste product. The result can be used in any recipe that normally uses egg whites. I believe it's referred to as aquafaba.
Anechidna
How will this go down with the anti-GM crowd? I suspect there is a long way to go before the claims will be known definitively. Is this going to be another highly processed synthetic foodstuff minus a few or many of the desired amino acids etc our body looks for?
QuantumEngineer
If 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions' then these scientists seem to have found another path with this research. While I believe they are acting with good intentions, making a 'green' synthetic product for human consumption doesn't make it better for people or the environment. GMO in whatever form it takes destroys the natural world in favor of a mechanized view that looks at pieces, not the whole. What will happen when these modified fungi escape into the environment? There are sustainable ways to farm and raise livestock that doesn't follow the industrial model. The sooner we adopt these the healthier people and the environment will become.