Sunday, March 30, 2008

A "novel" oil

Infant formulas have "novel" oils added to them to imitate the naturally occurring DHA and ARA in breastmilk. The UK definition of novel food is "a food that is produced by a novel process, e.g. a genetically modified food product." I am not sure how the US defines "novel." Novel seems to mean "new" but also could be "genetically engineered." Let the consumer guess seems to be the FDA position on novel foods. These novel oils are added to some organic infant formulas as well as most conventional infant formulas.
The creation of ARA by novel methods means that a fungal species is used to make this oil. The fungal species that is often used is called Mortierella alpina. We can buy this species at the ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) in Rockville Maryland accession # 42430. I am not sure whether one gets the orignal species or the cloned version. Next step is to get our species to replicate. So we place our species on a growth medium--can be glucose, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, hydrolized starch, or whey permeate. Then we add a yeast extract or a peptone or tryptone or cornsyrup liquor or soy flour or hydrolized vegetable protein. Those skilled in the art of making single cell algae and/or fungal oils will know how to carefully shake and stir it and watch it grow in fermentor tanks. Next is extraction, hexane is used. Then the cloudy oil must be clarified using acetone. Foaming is a problem, so anti-foaming agents must be used. And sometimes other polar solvents must be used like ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Yummy.....
And this is placed in infant formula and organic infant formula. (DHA is produced in a similiar manner, only using an algae species). This is called single cell protein production. It is a new way of making food but is also a way of making fuel (replacement for crude oil). Humans have never eaten such food before...hence the word novel. Algae and fungi reproduce by cloning. But natural reproduction can often be too slow for a growing industry. With genetic engineering techniques, an industry can alter genes of these single cell organisms to produce more oil in their darkened fermentor tanks. It's a challenge. But our science is meeting the challenges of food production. Too bad the consumers (babies) have little to say in regard to what they eat.
(Martek Bioscience, maker of these oils, denies that they genetically engineer their algae or fungi.)
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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