Professor Jin-ho Seo’s research team (Breast milk from microalgae)
<Professor Seo, Jin-ho, chief researcher>
The wonders of breast milk have been widely known. Breast milk provides the first nutrients for newborns and is involved in health, intestinal function, the immune system, and brain development in babies. Unfortunately, although breast milk is essential for babies, not all mothers produce healthy breast milk. However, there is good news for these mothers: the essential nutrients of breast milk will be commercialized in the near future.
The research team led by professor Jin-ho Seo at the College of Agricultural and Life Science at Seoul National University is developing technology for producing essential nutrients of breast milk. Although cow milk and breast milk seem to have similar ingredients, their biggest difference is in the oligosaccharide content. Cow milk contains 0.1 g of oligosaccharide, whereas breast milk has approximately 15-20 g. Professor Seo’s research team predicts that big differences in physiological characteristics between breast milk and cow milk result from a difference in oligosaccharide content. Among various types of oligosaccharides, breast milk contains the highest amount of fucosylated oligosaccharides. However, not all mothers can produce breast milk containing a copious amount of fucosylated oligosaccharides. For example, 30% of mothers in China and 20% of mothers in Europe cannot biosynthesize fucosylated oligosaccharides due to genetic defects.
Professor Seo’s research team determined that fucosylated oligosaccharide is an essential nutrient of breast milk and have been studying its production using microorganisms for 15 years. Furthermore, his team recently conducted a study by obtaining fucosylated oligosaccharides from microalgae. They began this study based on the fact that sugar fucose is produced from sea mustard and microalgae. They focused on research positing that breast milk oligosaccharides can be produced from the byproducts of microalgae used for generating bioenergy. As a result, they succeeded in developing a manufacturing process for producing fucosylated oligosaccharides from fucose contained in a saccharified solution of microalgae. This technology has already been transferred to companies in Korea.
Although studies of fucosylated oligosaccharides have been conducted for a while, the significance lies in the fact that the team developed a manufacturing process from the byproducts of microalgae. This is because essential nutrients of breast milk were obtained from byproducts of the process generating bioenergy, the importance of which is increasing due to energy depletion. The technology developed by professor Seo’s research team can produce fucosylated oligosaccharides in powder form, with high purity, that can be readily mixed into milk, similar to formula. His research team said that studies need to be continued to establish its mass production system and that these breast milk oligosaccharides should be approved by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety and the FDA in order to be used in Korea as well as in other countries. Because its production in the laboratory has been proven, professor Seo’s research team will develop technology for its mass production using a microorganism fermentation process. Because fucosylated oligosaccharide is currently extremely expensive in the market, they are trying to produce it at a low cost so that more people can purchase and consume it. We hope that fucosylated oligosaccharide will prove to be the material necessary to create food products that give hope to mothers with genetic defects and that it can be developed into health products for not only children but also the elderly.
Student Reporter Park, Yu-bin