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No chickens were harmed in the making of Onego Bio’s Bioalbumen — which has a 90% lower carbon footprint than traditional egg production, 10 times better yields and at price parity.
There’s are several problems with eggs. From unethical poultry-farming
practices to packaging and
distribution, the production of eggs — a dietary staple worldwide — carries a
fairly hefty environmental and animal-welfare burden.
In all corners of the planet, the egg industry puts pressure on resources and
water. Plus, excessive land-use change, harmful use of antibiotics and
chemicals, and the industry’s associated greenhouse gas emissions are all taking
This year, avian
created another challenge — causing major supply chain issues and skyrocketing
prices. In the US alone, avian flu has caused around 40 million animal
losses and cost the economy up to $3
Egg is one of the world’s most versatile and widely used animal proteins, and
plays a critical role in food manufacturing to bind, thicken, coat, leaven,
emulsify and foam. Egg production has almost doubled in the past 20 years, and
is set to reach 138 million tons by
but ethically and sustainably meeting the ongoing demand for eggs remains a
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To sate our appetite for more and more eggs, a number of startups have launched
to provide more sustainable solutions. Among them is Onego Bio, the only
company of its kind producing nature-identical ovalbumin protein — the main protein in egg white. According to the company, its Bioalbumen has a 90 percent
lower carbon footprint than traditional egg production, with ten times better
yields and a 20 percent lower production cost.
Oh, and it offers the same nutritional value as egg whites; and foams, gels,
binds and leavens just as well, too. Just 1kg, or 2.2 pounds, of Bioalbumen
produces the egg white equivalent of 277 eggs.
The idea for producing egg proteins in such a way was initially born at the VTT
Technical Research Centre in Finland, where
company co-founder Chris
Landowski spent 15
years. There, he experimented with precision fermentation — a 50-year-old
technology that enables microorganisms to produce complex molecules, such as
proteins identical to the natural ones; the tech has recently enabled the
production of nature-identical, animal-free, sustainable alternatives to
ingredients, to name a few. The process — similar to brewing beer — has been
used for many years for producing food additives, such as enzymes.
In 2016, Landowski and his team started producing alternative egg and milk
proteins. Later, he teamed up with fellow co-founder and the firm’s CEO, Maija
Itkonen, with the aim of
becoming a serious player in the alternative-protein industry.
“Bioalbumen is nature-identical to ovalbumin, which is the primary protein in
egg white that is responsible for most of egg white’s functionalities,” Itkonen
tells Sustainable Brands®. “So, Bioalbumen can directly replace not only egg
white powder but even whole eggs in some food recipes.”
The startup’s biotech process is based on harnessing the microorganism
Trichoderma reesei, which is superior in transforming carbohydrates to protein
because it is a protein producer by nature.
“We have trained the Trichoderma reesei to produce ovalbumin, instead of its
own proteins. No chickens are needed in the process, as they get the information
from scientific genetic databases that work like a library of life,” Itkonen
The micro-organisms are left to grow in an optimal environment in a bioreactor.
Depending on the process stage, the team either lets it gorge on glucose and
nutrients or starves it with little food at all, so that the production reaches
the highest possible levels. At the end of the process, the bioreactor is filled
with ovalbumin, water and biomass from the micro-organism. The company separates
the biomass from the egg white, and dries the liquid into powder form to produce
Bioalbumen. The company says its production technology is unique in that it can
be scaled up into large, industrial bioreactors, producing levels of the desired
protein very efficiently.
Long a staple in other cultures, fermented foods
have grown in popularity in the West in recent years — with consumers enjoying the associated health
benefits. Onego Bio is banking on people having a similar affiliation with
precision fermentation — and its ability to create animal-free products.
“We’re confident consumers will see this as a positive advancement in our food
system,” Itkonen asserts. “Egg is a necessary ingredient in countless food and
beverage products, which means the demand is already there. Egg white is perfect
in nutrition and functionality; but the way it’s currently produced is not
sustainable. There is a growing demand for animal-free alternatives.”
With a significant consumer shift toward flexitarian and plant-based lifestyles,
the company hopes to tap into “the next big, disruptive wave,” as Itkonen puts
So, what’s next for the business? Having already received recognition since
launching in February 2022 — as a winner of Fast Company’s 2023
Awards — Onego Bio will start manufacturing and commercial operations next year in the US.
Meanwhile, Bioalbumen is in the process of getting FDA approval.
“We’re working with several major CPG companies who are testing Bioalbumen,”
Itkonen says. “Precision fermentation is the newest chapter in the history of
making food with microbes. And egg is a smart starting point for next-level
Published Oct 18, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
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