Israeli startup PoLoPo has developed molecular farming technology to produce real animal proteins without exploiting any animals. The startup recently closed a $1.75 million funding round to double down on developing its proprietary technology to grow animal proteins in potatoes. 

Using directed metabolic engineering techniques, PoLoPo first creates a potato plant able to produce considerable high amounts of free amino-acids, which will be used as building blocks for high-scale production of proteins in the potato tuber.

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The pre-seed funding round, led by FoodLabs—an early stage investor and venture studio for food, sustainability, and health—will allow the startup to further expand its core team of world-class scientists and accelerate their R&D efforts with a plan to offer prototypes near the end of 2024.

PoLoPo is also building a plant to be used as a protein bio-factory which will serve as the platform for high scale, custom-made production of proteins. 

Growing protein in a sustainable way

PoLoPo has developed the proprietary technology to express proteins in potatoes in a scalable, cost-effective way in order to meet the food industries’ protein demands and to nourish the world’s growing population. 

The company is building a technology platform for protein production, starting with Ovalbumin (protein of the egg white), targeting the $26.6 billion egg protein market as well as the growing demand for egg white protein alternatives from the industry. 

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PoLoPo’s Ovalbumin will be identical to “real” egg Ovalbumin in terms of functionality, nutritional value, and protein sequence, the startup says, providing an opportunity to replace chicken eggs.

PoLoPo founders Maya Sapir-Mir, PhD, and Raya Liberman-Aloni, PhD, are plant metabolic engineers with an expertise in the expression and targeting of functional proteins in plants. The co-founders met more than 15 years ago, during their PhD studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked side by side for six years.

“We’re glad to have won a group of such renowned and like-minded investors,” Sapir-Mir said in a statement. “With this substantial funding we are aiming to reach several significant milestones, including protein-rich potato tubers and Ovalbumin functional samples.”

Why potatoes are the answer

Produced in more than 100 countries worldwide and the third most important food crop in the world, potatoes are an abundant, resilient, cheap, and versatile yet underused food source. PoLoPo’s potato-to-protein pathway allows for commercial scalability since plants require relatively low investment to grow and are amenable to upscaling by common agricultural practice.

“We want to produce better food for the world,” Liberman-Aloni said in a statement.

“Molecular farming technology, being harnessed for the production of high-quality proteins, presents a huge opportunity to do so, alongside with taking the animals out of the equation and reducing the carbon footprint of the production process.”

So far, PoLoPo has won the Coller startup competition FoodTech track, which took place in July 2022, for its innovative technology. And in October 2022, PoLoPo was crowned winner of the FoodHack Demo Day as the startup with the most impact potential.

Making egg whites vegan

PoLoPo joins a few other companies that are working to revolutionize egg white proteins by removing animals from the equation. Last year, the enterprise biology arm of biotechnology company Perfect Day partnered with Onego Bio, a precision fermentation company that makes animal-free egg whites. 

Onego was founded in 2022 by Maija Itkonen, Christopher Landowski, and Jussi Joensuu and is emerging from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. As the first partner under Perfect Day’s enterprise biology arm, Onego is leaning on Perfect Day’s resources to amplify its mission of producing functional egg proteins using precision fermentation, a sustainable and cruelty-free solution to traditional egg production. 

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Onego’s approach to making animal-free egg whites—which is based on the same microflora platform Perfect Day uses to make its animal-free whey—preserves eggs’ functional qualities while removing the downsides of traditional egg production. 

“Onego Bio is a serious, new player in the field, with top-notch technology skills and world class experts that share our kinder, greener mission,” Perfect Day co-founder Ryan Pandya said in a statement. “We believe their animal-free egg white products will play a significant role in transforming our food chain.”

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Then there’s San Francisco-based The EVERY Company which also uses precision fermentation to make egg whites. To prove that the EVERY EggWhite performs exactly like its traditional counterpart, last year EVERY partnered with French company Chantal Guillon to create vegan macarons. These bite-sized cookies are notoriously difficult to perfect and rely heavily on egg whites for their texture and subtle eggy flavor, but EVERY showed the world that it can be done. 

“The egg white is the holy grail of functionality when it comes to so many of the ingredients that have yet to be replaced [with plant-based alternatives] because it’s not about taste, it’s about the functionality—the mouthfeel and texture,” EVERY founder and CEO Arturo Elizondo previously told VegNews. “For me, the macaron is the holy grail application that has yet to be cracked.”

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