Onego Bio produces bio-identical egg white protein without chickens

The Finnish food biotech company uses precision fermentation to create Bioalbumen, an animal-free egg white protein with a 90% lower environmental footprint.

Rachel French, Contributing writer

April 2, 2024

3 Min Read
egg white protein powder

At a Glance

  • Onego Bio creates Bioalbumen, a chicken-free egg white protein using precision fermentation.
  • Bioalbumen is made by modifying a common fungus (Trichoderma reesei) to produce the key protein in egg whites (ovalbumin).
  • Bioalbumen can be used in baked goods, confectioneries, plant-based meat alternatives and protein-fortified products.

Onego Bio, a food biotech company, is using precision fermentation technology to develop a bio-identical egg white protein — without the use of chickens. It boasts a 90% lower environmental footprint compared to traditional egg production, according to Maija Itkonen, CEO and co-founder of Onego Bio.

The ingredient, Bioalbumen, is nature-identical to ovalbumin, the primary protein responsible for most of egg white’s functionalities. Hence, it maintains the nutritional and functional properties of conventional egg whites.

“Bioalbumen can easily be integrated in food processing where chicken egg white powder or eggs traditionally are used without having to reformulate recipes or change equipment,” Itkonen explained.

In food applications, the egg white protein yields the functional attributes of conventional egg whites, including foaming, gelling, binding, emulsifying, coating and leavening properties, and can replace whole eggs in baking, she said. Potential applications for the ingredient include bakery, confectionery, sauces and dips, cocktails, and protein-fortified products like protein powders and protein snacks.

Bioalbumen can also replace commonly used additives such as methylcellulose in plant-based meat analogues, helping product developers create “cleaner” labels, per Itkonen.

From fungus to functional ingredient

Bioalbumen is powered by “one of the most important workhorses of modern biotechnology,” a fungus called Trichoderma reesei, Itkonen said.

The fungus, which was originally isolated more than 75 years ago, has been studied extensively by biotech researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, who modified the genetic heritage of the fungus and then developed beneficial ways to use it, she explained.

“The idea to start producing egg proteins with precision fermentation was initially born at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland where our CTO Chris Landowski spent almost 15 years developing protein production platforms prior to co-founding Onego Bio,” Itkonen said.

To produce Bioalbumen, Onego Bio trained the Trichoderma reesei fungus to produce ovalbumin instead of its own proteins.

“The micro-organisms are left to grow in an optimal environment,” Itkonen explained. “Depending on the process stage, we either let it gorge on glucose and nutrients or starve it with little food at all, so that the production reaches the highest possible levels.”

The process produces ovalbumin, water and fungal biomass. The biomass is separated from the egg white, and the liquid is dried to produce the final egg white protein ingredient.

From ingredient to finished product

Itkonen said she expects Onego will achieve self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status and receive a “no objections letter” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2024.

In the meantime, the company is working to scale its technology and achieve price parity with the conventional animal-based ingredient.

“The biggest strength that enables us to do this in record time is using a well-known production system with proven performance, as Trichoderma has been used in the industrial enzyme business already for decades to produce large product volumes at low costs,” Itkonen said.

Onego Bio is already working with large food companies in the food, bakery and alternative-meat categories and anticipates announcing these partnerships sometime in 2024.

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing writer

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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