The companies have used the random mutagenesis process to create a strain that has higher protein and better organoleptic characteristics than the wildtype
Left: Smooth Chlorella, middle: Honey Chlorella (new version), right: Honey Chlorella (old version) © Marie-Christin Baune, DIL-ev
ProFuture has worked with Marbiotech/CCMAR Group, Greencolab at the University of Algarve, in Portugal, and Allmicroalgae to generate a new, improved Chlorella strain.
Despite food products based on microalgae already existing as high-quality food, there is an urgent need to improve existing microalgae-based foods: their organoleptic properties, such as a "grassy" taste, intense green colour and fishy odour are not widely accepted by consumers.
In 2022, ProFuture addressed this with a new innovation collaboration. Novel strains from microalgal species already registered as novel food were selected, namely Chlorella vulgaris, "Spirulina" and Tetraselmis to improve the quality of the produced biomass and overall consumer's acceptance. The process is called random mutagenesis: while mutations may occur spontaneously in nature, they can also be induced experimentally using laboratory procedures, isolating microalgae strains with different traits.
First, two Chlorella strains were isolated, namely C3 and GL3. C3 is able to grow significantly faster on solid medium as compared to the wildtype microalgae.
Interestingly, although C3 cells presented higher protein contents, GL3 displayed vestigial chlorophyll contents, lower carotenoid levels, and higher protein contents than the wildtype, together with a significantly different amino acid profile. Glutamic acid was present in similar amounts as in soy and Spirulina, which has not been observed in other strains of Chlorella. The GL3 cells also reached higher cell concentrations than the wildtype, strongly suggesting that it might become a relevant source of protein, being suitable to be produced at a larger scale.
Allmicroalgae scaled up the production of the new Chlorella in their facilities, and shipped it to ILVO - Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research in Belgium, the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) in Spain and the German Institute of Food Technologies (DIL e.V.).
ILVO is in charge of the new Chlorella functionality to predict the behaviour of this new ingredient in food applications.
Based on these results, IRTA and DIL in collaboration with food producers will optimize healthy and tasty formulations using the new Chlorella at lab level. The main challenge is to develop innovative products (vegan sausages, snacks, soups and vegetables creams, sport drinks, bread and pasta) with improved nutritional quality and desirable sensorial properties.
Safety analysis is a priority and was done regarding heavy metals, potential allergens, microbiological stability, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), acrylamide and cytotoxicity tests and potential residue of pesticides.
Innovative foods made with new Chlorella will be fully characterised from biochemical, technological and sensorial perspectives. Later, the best formulations will be upscaled by food producers and used for testing market uptake.