Monday, April 22, 2019

Coming to a Sweet Tooth Near You: Proteins 10,000 Times Sweeter Than Sugar

From AgFunder:
Mary Poppins used to sing about how a spoonful of sugar “helps the medicine go down.” She’d perhaps change her tune if she ever met Dr. Ilan Samish, the CEO and founder of Amai Proteins — an Israeli startup lab-designing hyper-sweet, thermo-stable, zero-calorie proteins out of exotic fruits.

“The latest one is over 10 thousand times sweeter than sugar,”  he tells AgFunderNews on the sidelines of last month’s Rethink Food-Agri Innovation Week in San Francisco, where Amai clinched this year’s AgriFood Tech Innovation Award for ‘Most Innovative International Startup at Pre-Series A.’
One example of these hyper-sweet designer proteins in action: “We’ve been making pina coladas,” Dr. Samish says proudly. Amai, which is the Japanese word for ‘sweet,’ has been collaborating with food and beverage conglomerates like PepsiCo, Danone and SodaStream (as well as biotech companies like Merck and Lonza) to refine and stabilize taste profiles, testing their proteins in a wide variety of conditions and flavors.

A Spoonful of Proteins
 What he takes from his bag today, however, is a little less tropical: a generic plastic water bottle, filled with a clear liquid. 

Inside, he says, is indeed mostly water, mixed with a solution of roughly half sugar. The other half is one of his lab-designed super sweet proteins, designed based on proteins of exotic fruits via a process called Agile Integrative Computational Protein Design (AI-CPD) and fermentation; there’s also a dash of acidic lemon juice thrown in to help stabilize the flavor and prevent the whole thing turning too sweet. 

Dr. Samish hopes that tiny doses of proteins like these — milligrams rather than spoonfuls — could soon serve as a cheap and healthy way of replacing sugars or other sweeteners in soft drinks, snacks, or, indeed, possibly medication. While these proteins activate our sweetness receptors, our guts will absorb them as workmanly proteins. (Right now, these sweet proteins are for research and development purposes only. And occasionally for serving up to journalists asking too many questions…)

There are good reasons for weaning suppliers, consumers, and Mary Poppins off sugary stuff: “Sugar kills more people than gunpowder,” Dr. Samish warns, with a sternness capable of silencing even the chirpiest of fictional British nannies. And with a dark sprinkle of his own lyricism, he adds that “gunpowder does it quickly; sugar does it slowly.”

This is grim but true. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people who have diabetes surged from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, while worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Many public health experts link these trends to heightened global intakes of addictive and calorific sugary snacks and drinks.
Both diabetes and obesity can, in turn, trigger a whole host of related health problems, not least elevating the risk of heart disease and strokes — the world’s two most common causes of death. The current mass market options for alternative low-calorie sweeteners is not much to smile or sing about either. A 2018 report conducted by the American Heart Association found that many of these options have “undesirable effects of satiety and perception of hunger” and “increased taste preference for sweet foods,” as well as promoting an “increased perception that more dietary calories can be consumed.” They also warn of a “dearth of evidence on the potential adverse effects of LCS [Low-Calorie Sweeteners] beverages relative to potential benefits.”

A ‘Crazy Guy’ Curing Food
The medical and pharmaceutical response, Dr. Samish has long believed, has been disproportionately pointing in the wrong direction. “Huge amounts of funding are spent on curing diseases relating to sugar intake,” he says. “I decided to devote my time into curing the food that causes these diseases.”...MORE