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Raya Liberman-Aloni
Raya Liberman-Aloni

In this instalment of The Cell Base's ‘Start-up spotlight,' we speak to Raya Liberman-Aloni, CTO and co-founder of PoLoPo, an Israeli start-up that employs molecular farming to produce animal-based proteins in potato plants.

Can you tell us a little more about PoLoPo and its role in the sustainable protein industry?

PoLoPo is a B2B ingredient company that uses molecular farming to produce animal-based proteins in potato plants. Our first target is ovalbumin, which is also known as egg protein. PoLoPo’s ovalbumin is identical to its animal-derived counterpart. It is identical in its function and nutritional value and is a one-to-one replacement for egg protein powders. We have also been able to increase the potato’s native protein, patatin.

What motivated the establishment of PoLoPo, and what led the company to focus on molecular farming?

Molecular farming is emerging as a major pillar of food technology. It is a sky-is-the-limit field with the ability to radically rewrite how humanity is nourished and how our planet’s finite resources are used. This has been a long-time passion for our co-founder and CEO, Maya Sapir-Mir, and me. We both worked in plant science and genetics for more than a decade after our PhD studies and post-doctoral work at the agricultural R&D institute, The Volcani Center, in Israel.

How does PoLoPo's technology work?

To be brief, we insert a DNA sequence into the potato plant’s genome. When appropriately expressed in the right tissue and at the right time, which we call our 'secret sauce,' the plant produces the protein we are interested in. The protein accumulates in the potato tuber, without affecting the potato growth and yield.

Once plants are 'trained' to produce the protein we want, they grow as typical potato plants. Then, we harvest the potato tubers, extract the proteins using traditional potato processing lines, and dry them into powder.

What advantages can PoLoPo's technologies bring to the F&B industry and how do you envision these innovations shaping the future landscape?

With our technology, we can help the food and beverage industry become far more sustainable and stable. The industry depends on farming animals for protein, which is easily impacted by climate change, disease and market fluctuations. What we are producing isn’t a novel ingredient by any stretch of the imagination – it’s an ingredient that is already widely used. In fact, the global market for ovalbumin powder is projected to hit $36 billion in just eight years.

Can you tell us about the SuperAA platform and what this could potentially mean for the cell-ag industry?

The SuperAA platform is essentially the biofactory, the method of manufacturing the target ingredients – in this case, egg protein. This platform is tunable and can be applied to other ingredients. We’ve started with ovalbumin, but other animal proteins, notably dairy protein, could be produced on the SuperAA platform.

What challenges has PoLoPo faced and how has it overcome these?

It’s a difficult climate for food-tech fundraising, but agritech is (rightly) seen as distinct from the rest of the pack. We are fortunate to have a strong, cost-effective path to scale since potatoes are quick and inexpensive to grow, they’re resilient, they grow nearly anywhere, the yield is large vis-à-vis resources used like land and water.

What we’ve created is completely compatible with existing infrastructure for harvesting and processing, and compatible with any F&B manufacturing line that is already using ovalbumin powder, so there is really no risk to any commercial partner.

Looking to the future, what's next for PoLoPo?

As an ingredient provider, we will be working with more food and beverage companies interested in our proteins. We’ll also work with growers interested in a pilot programme. Down the line there is the possibility of producing dairy protein or other animal-based ingredients.

PoLoPo molecular farming

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

More than 70% of global agriculture is animal farming, including growing feed crops for animals, with extremely poor and inefficient resource utilisation. Instead of growing plants to feed animals in concentrated animal feeding operations, imagine growing plants that are far more efficient protein factories. Not only would we slash the environmental impact of animal farming, we can reclaim an enormous amount of land.

#PoLoPo #Israel

Start-up spotlight: PoLoPo

Phoebe Fraser

25 April 2024

Start-up spotlight: PoLoPo

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