Will a Protein Become the Next Big Sweetener?

As consumers become more aware of their caloric intake, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are losing their popularity and being replaced by low and no-calorie alternatives. A fruit protein called brazzein has attracted attention as a potential sugar substitute as it is sweeter than sugar and contains fewer calories, but producing the protein in large amounts has been difficult. Engineering microorganisms to make the protein has not shown high quality results, and purifying it from the West African fruit that makes it naturally on a commercial scale would be complicated. Fortunately, Kwang-Hoon Kong and colleagues are working on a new approach, where brazzein is produced by yeast. Using Kluyveromyces lactis, researchers were able to have the yeast overproduce two proteins that are needed for assembling brazzein. This process allowed the team to produce 2.6 times more brazzein than they had before, and created the protein to be 2,000 times sweeter than sugar, according to a panel of tasters. With this new step in commercial production of brazzein, the protein shows promising potential in becoming a popular substitute for calorie-wary consumers.

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