‘A significant breakthrough’: Researchers develop human milk fat analog from microalgae

“This discovery represents a significant breakthrough in infant nutrition due to its ability to mimic key components of human milk fat, particularly the precise composition of triacylglycerols (TAG),” Scott Franklin, chief science officer and co-founder at California-based Checkerspot, told NutraIngredients-USA. 

The analogue produced is known as Oleic-Palmitic-Oleic (OPO) or sn​-2 palmitate, a structured tryglyceride where palmitic acid (16:0) is bonded to the middle position (sn-2) of the glycerol backbone. 

It has been shown to have profound implications for infant health and development, particularly impacting processes like digestion, absorption, modulation of gut microbiota, immune function and potentially long-term health outcomes.  

Producing complex human milk fats from microalgae at scale

Human milk and its complex lipid composition play a crucial role in early human development. However, reproducing this complexity has been a longtime hurdle for infant formula manufacturers working with structured triglycerides produced enzymatically from conventional oils including palm, coconut, canola and sunflower oils. 

“Traditional methods have faced challenges in replicating the structure and function of human milk fat, including achieving high levels of palmitic acid at the sn​-2 position of TAG in the form of OPO TAG (oleic-palmitic-oleic), which is crucial for enhanced digestibility and nutrient absorption in infants, resulting in formulations with lower levels of sn​-2 palmitate in the form of OPO TAG compared to human milk,” Franklin explained.