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Lettuce as a "Miracle" sugar substitute and other biotech startup projects

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August 24
7:26 AM 2015

People nowadays watch what they eat due to the rise in the level of health problems particularly obesity and diabetes.  They cut down their sugar intake and rely mostly on natural sweeteners.

The latest success has been the sweetener derived from the stevia plant with a worldwide market value reaching to $336 million in 2014, but its weakness is quite like a bitter aftertaste.

Alan Perlstein got focused upon a Miracle Berry 10 years ago when he was an undergrad at Touro College studying Biology.  He is finding some ways to help his grandmother who is a cancer patient to regain her pleasure in food after chemotherapy.

He is the founder and CEO of ExVivo Dynamics that wants to reduce complications from blood transfusions with a filter designed for the removal of erythrocytes from the blood before a transfusion.

He and his team worked out of Harlem Biospace which is an incubator situated on West 127th Street in West Harlem offering wet lab facilities for early-stage biotech companies.

They aren't the only scientists to commercializemiraculin, which is a substance that makes sour foods taste sweet.  It is a protein present in the so-called 'Miracle Fruit' and is not actually a sweetener on its own but alters the taste buds for a period of time. 

Most are involved genetically modifying a host plant to produce the protein but not with Perlstein and his team. 

MiraculeX is producing the extract without using genetically modified organisms because consumers still don't trust GMO's according to Perlstein.

He only described his process sketchily because they are still securing patents, involves inserting a piece of DNA into the lettuce plant's genetic code.  It importantly turns lettuce into a temporary miraculin factory.

Unlike GMO (genetically modified organisms), the plant cell's nucleus remains unaltered, and the trait isn't passed down to future generations.  The resulting protein is similar to the protein produced by the Miracle Fruit as he explained.

After grinding up the lettuce, the researchers separate out a green powder which is the miraculin extract.  They have not come up yet with the decision on what color do consumers prefer it - white just like the sugar or green which is more natural.

To be certain, MiraculeX still has lots of work to do before they're ready to sell. They are developing ways to mass-produce the powder which has no calories and make it stable at warmer temperatures, says Perlstein.  They also want to shorten the time the sweetening effects last so it would not interfere with the other taste of your food.  

They also have to decide to seek approvals whether it is a food additive or as a substance that is generally recognized as safe.

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