Charles Dimmler, CEO of Checkerspot, speaking at SynBioBeta.

Checkerspot Innovates Infant Nutrition with Microalgae-Based Human Milk Fat Analogue

Food & Nutrition
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January 30, 2024

Checkerspot, a Certified B Corporation™ specializing in renewable oils derived from microalgae fermentation, has unveiled a groundbreaking advancement in infant nutrition. Published in Frontiers in Nutrition, their latest breakthrough introduces a novel source of human milk fat analogue known as OPO (Oleic-Palmitic-Oleic or sn-2 palmitate).

Infant formula composition has long struggled to mirror the intricate lipid profile of human milk. While conventional formulas rely on palm, coconut, canola, and sunflower oils, they fall short of replicating the precise fatty acid distribution found in breast milk. Checkerspot's pioneering technology, rooted in microalgae fermentation, promises a solution by enabling the precise esterification of specific fatty acids at targeted positions on the glycerol backbone.

Bryce Doherty carries OPO. At room temperature, it's a liquid. Photo by Shogo Kawatsu.

Unlike existing substitutes produced enzymatically, Checkerspot's OPO boasts a higher concentration of sn-2 palmitate, a critical component of human milk fat. By harnessing sugars-to-oils molecular biology, Checkerspot achieves unparalleled control over carbon chain lengths and fatty acid positioning, all while maintaining scalability through fermentation.

“Microalgae function very much like higher plants when it comes to lipid metabolism. They typically insert saturated fatty acids at the sn-1 and sn-3 positions on the glycerol backbone and unsaturated fatty acids at the sn-2 position. Successfully making a human milk triglyceride in our system posed a formidable challenge because it goes completely counter to its normal lipid metabolism,” said Scott Franklin, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at Checkerspot. 

Oleic-Palmitic-Oleic or sn-2 palmitate (OPO). Photo by Shogo Kawatsu.

“Our published work details the innovative approach we undertook to address this challenge. We elucidate the methodology employed by our team and showcase the new ingredient we designed, highlighting its potential functional benefits in comparison with existing ingredients used to replicate the triglyceride composition found in human milk. We obtained a unique human milk fat analog containing palmitic acid in sn-2 position in the range of 73% of total palmitic acid. This achievement marks a significant stride in advancing the field, as detailed in our groundbreaking article,” commented Franklin, recognizing the years of research needed to design a strain capable of producing the triglyceride structures naturally present in human milk. 

This milestone marks a significant leap forward in infant nutrition. With approximately 40-60% of an infant formula's lipid content derived from a human milk fat analogue, precise control over triglyceride structures is paramount. Checkerspot's method not only enhances nutritional value but also promises a more sustainable future by reducing reliance on conventional oil sources.

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