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Food Ingredients

Firms invest in human milk oligosaccharides

Ginkgo Bioworks and Glycosyn are the latest to pursue the nutritional ingredients

by Melody M. Bomgardner
November 8, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 45


A mother holds her infant while she feeds it from a bottle.
Credit: Shutterstock
Many infant formulas contain human milk oligosaccharides to nurture babies' gut health.

The organism engineering company Ginkgo Bioworks and the biotech firm Glycosyn are joining to develop human milk oligosaccharides as ingredients for products that foster a healthy gut microbiome. The pair are the latest to pursue commercial-scale production of HMOs, found naturally in breast milk, for use in infant formula and other foods.

In the deal, Ginkgo will provide Glycosyn with $14 million in cash and access to Ginkgo’s engineered microbe foundry in exchange for equity in Glycosyn. The two companies will optimize fermentation microbes and scale up production of HMOs that Glycosyn has so far made only in lab quantities.

Although breast milk contains more than 200 unique HMOs, 2′-fucosyllactose is the main one produced at commercial scale. It is now a common ingredient in branded infant formulas. Glycosyn says it can produce 15 additional sugars. It points to early research suggesting they can be used to treat inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease as well as irritable bowel syndrome and damage to gut microbes due to the use of antibiotics.

Glycosyn says it has strong intellectual property holdings and is looking to expand the breadth of its HMOs for pharmaceutical applications. “Ginkgo will enable us to continue doing what we do best with more efficiency and improved economics than ever before, and explore new strains and products,” says John Garrett, Glycosyn co-CEO.

Two German firms are also ramping up production of HMOs. BASF says it will make 2′-fucosyllactose via fermentation for its Newtrition ingredients brand. Meanwhile, Jennewein Biotechnologie, which produces 2′‑fucosyllactose and lacto-N-neotetraose, said last month it will expand to make 3‑fucosyllactose, difucosyllactose, lacto-N-tetraose, 6-sialyllactose, and 3-sialyllactose.

Also last month, Belgium’s Inbiose, which has a partnership with DuPont Nutrition & Health, announced it has expanded its range of HMOs from three to seven. “The commercial availability of these HMOs will bring great new opportunities to further improve infant milk formula and to get closer to the all-time gold standard, human breast milk,” the company said.


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