Move over synbio stevia; there are new GMO sweeteners in town
The stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) features leaves that contain sweetness compounds known as rebaudiosides, or Rebs for short. Each Reb has a slightly different flavor profile. When extracted from the stevia leaf, they combine to create a sweetener that has a slightly bitter, and often unpopular, aftertaste. Various brands of synthetic biology (synbio) stevia have been on the market for a number of years and were developed, in part, to address this drawback. Through synbio, developers have been able to select and recreate the sweetest Rebs (e.g., Reb M), of the stevia plant while leaving the other, more bitter Rebs behind.
But in the ever-expanding quest for low- or no-calorie sweeteners, biotechnology developers are now turning their attention to creating new sweetness proteins that mimic those present in less common fruit, such as fruit from the West African oubli and katemfe plants, which are known for their intense sweetness. Some of these novel proteins provide sweetness on their own; others are taste modifiers that are not sweet in their own right but affect sweetness receptors to make foods taste more sweet.
This new group of sweetness and taste-modifying proteins includes brazzein, thaumatin, curculin, mabinlin, and miraculin. Most are being developed using synbio, also known as precision fermentation, but at least one developer is using molecular farming. Here’s a brief overview of some of these developers.
Joywell Foods (Joywell) is a developer of synbio sweetness proteins that has been working in this space since 2014. Some of the proteins in its portfolio include thaumatin I and II, brazzein, pentadin, curculin, mabinlin, monellin, and miraculin. In June, Joywell announced that it had raised $25 million to bring a line of beverages sweetened with its synbio proteins to market. The Series B funding round was led by Piva Capital with participation from Evolve Ventures (Kraft Heinz VC), IndieBio, Khosla Ventures, and others. Flavor profiles for the beverages include lemon lime, cherry ginger, and mint berry. At this time, it is unknown which of Joywell’s sweetness proteins will be used in the beverages or how they will be listed on ingredient panels.
It is interesting to note that in February of 2021, Joywell Foods sent a GRAS submittal for various forms of miracle fruit (miraculin) to the FDA but then several months later, in September, requested that the FDA cease its evaluation of the submittal after the FDA had raised a number of issues.
Conagen and its partner Sweegen have announced the commercial launch of a new synbio sweetness protein, brazzein. The protein will be marketed under the brand name Ultratia™. Sweegen plans to launch the synbio sweetener by the end of the year but did not reveal the specific products that would feature the new protein. At the end of 2021, Conagen revealed that it was preparing to submit GRAS paperwork to the FDA. The ingredient will reportedly be listed on ingredient panels as brazzein.
Amai Proteins (Amai), an Israeli biotechnology developer, uses a computational protein design platform to create novel synbio sweetness proteins. Amai was recently named the global winner of the 2022 XTC Extreme Tech Challenge for its work and hopes to launch its sweetness proteins within the year. The company’s first product will be branded sweelin™.
Brain Biotech is a German company that specializes in the use of CRISPR and precision fermentation (i.e., synbio). The company entered into an agreement with the French company Roquette in 2021 to produce a synbio brazzein sweetness protein. The partnership stemmed from their collaboration as part of the DOLCE Research Program, whose mission was to provide next-generation sweetness solutions. The companies plan to initially target the beverage industry.
Nomad Bioscience/Nambawan Biotech
Nomad Biosciences (Nomad) is a German biotechnology company that develops antibacterial biologics for medicine, food antibacterials, and sweet and taste-modifying proteins.Working with its spinoff company, Nambawan Biotech, Nomad has developed and commercialized thaumatin II, which is intended for use in food and beverages. Nomad uses molecular farming to produce thaumatin and other proteins in tobacco (Nicotiana benthamiana) and other crops. The company has submitted paperwork and achieved GRAS status for nine protein events.
The Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family.
Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.