According to the GRAS determination (submitted in April and currently pending with the FDA), the myoglobin preparation – supplied as a frozen liquid – is intended for use at inclusion rates of ≤2%, to “mimic flavors associated with cooked ground meat” in fresh or frozen plant-based burgers, patties, sausages, and other meat analogs.
The primary function of the myoglobin in food is for flavor, but as it imparts a red color when exposed to oxygen, a color additive petition will also be submitted to the FDA in the coming weeks, Motif’s head of regulatory, government, and industry affairs, Janet Collins told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Motif is in the process of developing its color additive petition to submit to the FDA within the next 30 days. This would be a ‘new’ color additive because it has never been used as a direct colorant in food products.”
It can be labeled ‘myoglobin’ or ‘natural flavor’
As for labeling of the ingredient, which Motif plans to launch later this year, she said, “Motif engaged legal counsel to establish how our ingredient would be labeled in the ingredient list. We have concluded that our product could be labeled ‘myoglobin,’ or ‘natural flavor,’ and labeling regulations support that conclusion.”
Asked whether firms using it would require bioengineered food labels, as low level residues (≤0.2 mg/L) of native proteins from the fermentation organism are expected to be present in the myoglobin preparation, she said: “Yes, at this point we have been told that the product – because it has detectable DNA from the yeast used for fermentation – would require that customers using the ingredient would label under the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard [effective Jan 2022].”
The production process uses a yeast that’s widely used for production of recombinant proteins and food enzymes, including Impossible Foods’ flagship ‘heme’ protein
So how is it made? According to the GRAS notification, the ingredient is a liquid flavoring preparation containing myoglobin produced by fermentation from a modified strain of the yeast Pichia pastoris expressing the myoglobin gene from Bos taurus [ie. cows].
P.Pastoris is widely used for production of recombinant proteins and food enzymes, including Impossible Foods’ flagship ‘heme’ protein, noted Motif. “The P. pastoris NRRL Y-7556 host strain is from the same lineage as P. pastoris NRRL Y-11430, which served as the host organism for production of soybean leghemoglobin by Impossible Foods.”
To produce the myoglobin, a synthetic gene encoding for bovine myoglobin was inserted into a wildtype strain of P. pastoris yeast, and is the only non-native gene present in the production strain, explained Motif. “It has been confirmed by bioinformatics to not confer any pathogenic, virulent, or toxigenic factors to the production strain.”
The production strain does not contain any plasmids or antibiotic resistance genes, as confirmed by phenotyping and whole genome sequencing of the production strain, noted Motif in its GRAS determination.
‘The protein itself has a long history of safe consumption in the human diet’
So is it safe?
Given that the myoglobin in Motif’s preparation is “100% identical to bovine myoglobin” it has a “long history of safe consumption in the human diet,” explained Motif.
“To date, there have been no reports of adverse effects following consumption of bovine myoglobin.”
Meanwhile, “Assuming that the proposed food uses of myoglobin in meat alternative products would substitute for various meat products on a 1:1 basis, the introduction of Motif FoodWorks’ Myoglobin Preparation to the US marketplace would not change background intakes of myoglobin in the US population.”
It added: “Motif FoodWorks has demonstrated that the production strain (NRRL Y-7556) is homologous with the strain host (NRRL Y-11430) used for the manufacture of soybean leghemoglobin described by Impossible Foods in GRN 737 and therefore is from a safe strain lineage with a history of food use.
As for any trace residues of the engineered yeast strain in the final flavor, it said, “Motif FoodWorks also has characterized the identities of the major proteins originating from the production organism and identified these proteins as functionally involved in innocuous biosynthetic and housekeeping proteins necessary for productive growth of the organism.
“Motif FoodWorks has therefore concluded that the myoglobin preparation is produced by a safe strain lineage and the presence of low-level residues of Pichia cell matter in the Preparation are not of toxicological significance.”
Motif CTO: ‘This is something that’s being offered for the first time in the industry, so we’re very excited’
Motif CTO Dr Mike Leonard told us: “Our myoglobin is identical to the myoglobin you find in muscle tissue of cows and provides that meaty flavor, aroma, and that that sort of umami flavor experience you expect from real meat. And this is something that’s being offered for the first time in the industry, so we’re very excited.”
So how does Motif’s myoglobin compare to Impossible Foods’ ‘heme,’ which the company has said ‘makes meat taste like meat’?
“It’s a different protein,” said Leonard. “The operative property is that it binds iron, and brings all the benefits from a sensory standpoint that come with that. It has a unique flavor profile that provides a very authentic meaty experience.”
Asked how confident he was that the FDA would have no questions/objections to the GRAS determination, he said: “As you can imagine we’ve had a significant level of pre-consultation with FDA before submitting, so we were clear on what they expected, but it’s the same protein you find in muscle tissue of cows.”
‘A very authentic meaty experience…’
The ingredient has been tested with consumers in recent months with exciting results, said Leonard.
“The feedback we’ve received has been really tremendous; we’re a b2b company but we go all the way to finished product design, because that’s the best way to showcase how our technology really provides a benefit for consumers.
“So we’ve run four events. The first was a traditional focus group that we ran in Ohio back in March. We had 40 consumers over a period of about a week to sample a burger [featuring Motif’s myoglobin and a new texturizing ingredient it plans to launch next year] and compare it to products that are on the market today, and our prototype scored high on all the target attributes, flavor, juiciness, texture, appearance…
“The data we got back were pretty striking. 73% of core client base consumers in that group preferred our burger over 80:20 beef and 63% preferred our prototype over leading retail brands.
“We’ve also partnered with a company called Coolgreens, a healthy restaurant franchise in Texas, which put our prototype product on their menu for a limited time, and it performed really well.”
Labeling: Is it vegan?
So what about positioning and messaging?
As this is ‘animal-free’ bovine myoglobin (that is, it’s made without animals), you can make a strong argument that it is vegan, a term not defined in food labeling laws in the US. But will hardcore vegans want to eat something that is effectively identical to a cow protein, and could it scupper the ‘plant-based’ credentials of the products that feature it?
“There’s always going to be people who will have their own opinions about this,” said Leonard. “But from a claims standpoint, we’re very confident that inclusion of this ingredient will preserve a vegan claim for a customer. There’s no direct animal provenance, it’s not based on an animal source.”
Motif FoodWorks – a Boston-based startup focused on high-impact ingredients that can be added to plant- based meat and dairy formulations in small quantities but make a significant difference to the eating experience – recently raised $226m in Series B funding, bringing its cumulative funding to $345m.
Powered by Ginkgo Bioworks’ bioengineering platform, Motif FoodWorks was founded in early 2019, and will commercialize its first ingredient (myoglobin) by the end of this year, with a second ingredient focused on improving texture in plant-based meat, to follow in early 2022.
While plenty of other players are now deploying synthetic biology and using DNA sequences like strings of computer code to instruct armies of tiny microbial food factories (yeast, bacteria, fungi etc) to produce everything from flavors and sweeteners to ‘animal-free’ egg and dairy proteins, Motif is in a unique position, claims CTO Dr Mike Leonard.
“We have an exclusive partnership with Ginkgo BioWorks to generate animal free ingredients for use in food, so [the point of difference] it’s really around the high-throughput screening and strain development capabilities that they bring to the table. That’s important because it means that we can take a lot of shots on goal at the same time.”
Investors, he says, also appreciated that Motif is not just looking at precision fermentation (its recent work on extrudable fats and corn prolamin protein technology does not involve microbes) and is taking a holistic approach to improving taste, texture and nutrition that incorporates a wide range of ingredients and disciplines, from materials science to synthetic biology, to new approaches to texture and sensory analysis such as ‘invitro oral processing.’
Interested in meat, dairy, and seafood alternatives?
Checkout FoodNavigator-USA’s new 3-part webinar series exploring everything from animal-free dairy and cell-cultured milk to plant-based tuna, and whole cuts from mycelium: Disrupting the meat and dairy case: From plant-based bacon to ‘real’ cheese (minus the cows)
We’ve got an awesome lineup of speakers from Danone North America, Atlast Foods, Kroger, Nature’s Fynd, Nowadays, Roquette, Oterra, NotCo, Change Foods, BioMilk, the GFI, Aqua Cultured Foods, Good Catch, New Wave Foods, Ocean Hugger, RSSL, and CP Kelco to explore the addressable market, how consumers are thinking about alt meat, dairy, and seafood, the investment landscape, formulation trends, and the expanding ingredient toolkit.
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