MiraculeX – Healthy protein sweeteners from plants

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In conversation with MiraculeX’s co-founder, Dr Eluem Blyden

What are the company’s core technologies or products?

  • MiraculeX is creating the first healthy consumer PROTEIN SWEETENERS. Protein sweeteners are found in the fruits of certain rare species of tropical plants and taste  super-sweet though they are not sugars.  Some of them are more than 4,000 times sweeter than sugar!  They are a huge health opportunity because they both taste great and unlike sugars, they don’t lead to obesity, diabetes or other undesirable side-effects .
  • Today there is limited use of natural protein sweeteners mainly because of the high cost of growing these rare plant species, and because they are relatively unknown. We are changing that by working out how to mass-produce these unique proteins using the latest plant biotechnology combined with food protein production using biotechnology will be the heart of the next food economy. The current standards for mass-producing food protein– industrial farming — is just not sustainable anymore. Plant derived alternatives to the major food categories of meat, dairy and sugar are inevitable.
  • The untapped potential of plant protein sweeteners have been largely neglected due to limits in technology and some wrong turns made. We believe we have the best strategy for placing plant-based sweeteners alongside emerging products like plant-derived “meat” and milk alternatives, reducing the use of sugar and all its problems. This is especially important today with obesity being the largest health burden in the world.
  • Our first proof of concept product is miraculin the “flavor tripping” protein sweetener that’s naturally found in the the Miracle Berry plant of West Africa.
  • We have also prototyped a number of amazing dessert prototypes from these plant protein sweeteners that contain no sugar.

Are MiraculeX’s products intended to be GMO-free? Are the genetic modifications to the lettuce heritable or transient?

We use ordinary lettuce as factories for producing the sweetener proteins. The whole process takes less than a week after which the plants are harvested and processed. We do not make any permanent alterations to the genome of the lettuce.

Are the products engineered to be stable at warm temperatures as miraculin is known to degrade at high temperatures eventually cooking?

At present we are making the natural proteins as they are found in nature. Some sweetener proteins are more stable than others and their applications in the food industry will vary depending on their particular characteristics.  These proteins are naturally found in tropical plants however, so they can be quite heat resistant.

How do you approach or leverage upon the current Stevia-based sweetener market (whose product is heat stable and non-calorific)?

There are protein sweeteners that are naturally heat stable– these will most likely be the candidates to substitute for stevia.

What do you perceive of the Asian market reception for your products?

We are really excited by opportunities in the Asian markets because they have traditionally had a close relationship to plant-based foods and veganism– trends which we believe are key to the future of sustainability of our planet. We also see that Asian countries  are embracing urban agricultural production using hydroponics and vertical farming technologies– key technologies for our business model– so prospects for scaleable partnerships are good.  We are talking to a few large food companies from Japan and Southeast Asia about ways in which mass produced sweetener proteins might be useful in their food and drink product lines. Of course, there is also a significant opportunity in the health/ nutraceutical space as well – anything that helps people satisfy their craving for sweet foods without threatening their health has the potential to heal.

What is the business model of the company?

Ultimately, we think the key to our success will be our ability to mass produce these natural proteins and deliver them to consumers in healthy foods– primarily through supplying food manufacturers, but we also think there are direct-to-consumer opportunities we would like to take that will help us to build our brand and educate the public about the delicious and healthy nature of our sweetener products.

So far, our funding has come from bootstrapping and our successful partnering with SOS Ventures through the Indie Bio Accelerator program in San Francisco.

What do you envision for the future of MiraculeX?

In the longer term, our vision is to develop mass-production for a line of protein sweeteners (there are only a handful of these intriguing proteins found in nature) and work out the best way to use them to create the  best tasting and healthiest sweet foods that have a minimum of sugar but maximum sweetness.  We will look for ways to make them more stable and tailor formulations for different applications in the food and beverage industries.

What is the current status of your technology?

We have expressed Miraculin in lettuce and are optimizing it in preparation for scale-up to pilot production and beyond. We are also actively developing  production of other sweetener proteins in the same system.

Getting into the prestigious Indie Bio program was an important achievement for us since it has opened many doors to us for partnering, product development and financing here on the Pacific Rim.

Your thoughts on biotech and healthcare startups in India/Asia?

Asia will be a great arena for biotech as there is generally greater acceptance of new ideas for food and a long history of bioengineering foods with technologies like fermentation and brewing. Also, there is probably a greater acceptance that eating the right food can prevent illness.

What is your advice for upcoming biotech and healthcare startups?

Alan and I created this company out of an idea and a chance meeting. We both were involved in other healthcare start-ups.  We saw that the synergy of our talents and vision could be valuable together so we made commitment to getting Miraculex going. Like all good partnerships, we have our moments of chaos but the key to success is to believe in the power you have to make a difference in the world as a team in a way you could never achieve on your own.

About MiraculeX and its founders

MiraculeX was founded in 2014 by Alan Perlstein and Eluem Blyden.

 miraculex_founders

  • Alan Perlstein M.S. is an award winning serial biotech entrepreneur and is CEO of Miraculex. He has had 10 years of experience working in academia and industry on medical devices & protein engineering. Alan graduated from NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering with a dual M.S in Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship. He is an alumnus of NYU Launchpad, Elab NYC and Harlem Biospace. He enjoys Scuba Diving, Skydiving and Hiking.
  • Eluem R. Blyden, Ph.D.,  has over 25 years experience in the Global Health field including recombinant vaccines and biopharmaceuticals development, genomics software, medical imaging and food security. Dr. Blyden holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from Cambridge University, UK and a B.Sc. cum laude in Biological Sciences from University of East Anglia, UK.  He  has worked as a consultant to governments developing  agricultural, environmental and  food security policy.  He was a recipient of the United Nations 2007 SEED Initiative Award for Environmental Entrepreneurship for his work in biodiversity conservation.

Image source: Unsplash