Denmark's Danisco and Arla Foods have joined a bid to discover and develop oligosaccharides that will enable production of infant formula more closely resembling mother's milk.
The 2.7 million euro project is being funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research, and will be overseen by the Technical University of Denmark. Danisco, an ingredients supplier, and Arla Foods, one of the world's biggest dairy companies, have been appointed industrial partners in the project and will contribute to the research programme.
Oligosaccharides are complex sugars present in breast milk at relatively high concentrations. It is believed they help protect the infant from infections and diarrhoea.
"This research aims to develop an enzymatic process to produce some of the key oligosaccharides naturally present in human breast milk," said Andrew Morgan, chief scientific officer at Danisco. "It's a major challenge technically, but it is also a significant opportunity."
"Research in oligosaccharides from human milk is key to understanding the development of the immune system in newborn infants," added Preben Bødstrup Rasmussen, R&D manager for child nutrition at Arla Foods, which markets infant formula in Central America and Asia under the Milex brand. "Therefore the possibility to develop and manufacture such substances can lead to new and higher standards for commercial infant formula."
Jørn Dalgaard Mikkelsen, professor at The Technical University of Denmark, will co-ordinate the efforts of all participants in the project, which also include the University of Southern Denmark, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Reading in the UK. Mikkelsen said: "There are thousands of oligosaccharide structures present in human breast milk and we need to determine which are the most effective."
"This is a long-term project, meaning that it is unlikely that a direct commercial outcome can be achieved in less than five years," said Danisco's Morgan. "It is also a risky project, but the university scientists working on this are some of the best, so if anyone is going to crack this I believe this team has a good chance."
For more stories on oligosaccharides, see: http://www.functionalingredientsmag.com/home/search.aspx?xsq=oligosaccharides