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The big bioengineering breakthrough and what can be expected from the vegan collagen

The latest nutricosmetics hype is around collagen peptides which are strictly animal-derived, but with the vegan movement growing, the demand for vegan nutricosmetics will also grow. We already see a lot of vegan collagen products on the market. However, it has been established that there is no such thing as vegan collagen.

Patricija Bajc hosted Uroš Gotar, Chief Innovation Officer at TOSLA Nutricosmetics, who addressed the misleading term of vegan collagen as widely used and explained how actual vegan collagen might look one day.

In one of our recent blogs, we can see Uroš’s educational video on the differences between mechanisms of acts of collagen versus vegan collagen boosters beauty supplements. As Uroš explains in the video, there is currently no such thing as vegan collagen. It is very misleading how brands are using this term at the moment. What can be found on the market are actually vegan collagen boosters. However, Uroš hint that real vegan collagen might exist in the future.

As Uroš explained, a recent breakthrough in bioengineering could make this happen. Scientists have, in fact, developed something that could render us a product that can be labeled as vegan collagen – it does not contain any animals inside or includes animals in the process. The process is called recombinant protein production, and it uses fermentation to produce it. But until this product is viable, we can only talk about vegan collagen boosters. These products or supplements are not actual collagen; they only boost collagen production and, therefore, cannot be called vegan collagen. But the new scientific breakthrough can be called vegan collagen. Uroš goes on to talk about his experience with this vegan collagen. He said he had a chance to test it in his lab and was surprised by the technological and sensory properties and appearance, which seemed to be precisely the same as the conventional collagen. In fact, he could not distinguish the conventional and vegan collagen. But when the conversation turned to efficiency, Uroš did not have an answer or opinion about it. As a real scientist, Uroš believes in research. Before making any claims, he wants to put vegan collagen on the test and compare the quality of it in comparison to conventional collagen and a placebo in a clinical trial.

To get the full picture of vegan collagen, it is crucial to explain how it is made.

A gene coded for collagen production is put in a cell-like bacteria or, in some cases, yeast, in bacteria (or yeast) preferred conditions, under which they produce protein, in this case, collagen, harvested later. The entire process is not new, it has been known since the 70s, and the same technology has been used for vaccine production, manipulation of resistance for herbicides of crops, golden rice, etc. Golden rice is rice that has been genetically modified in order to put beta carotene in it. Additionally, with the previously mentioned technology, they are detecting a deficiency of Vitamin A among children.

However extraordinary this technology is, there might be some downsides to it.

This entire process might sound artificial to many consumers, and they will refrain from consuming it. Especially because the drive propelling research to develop vegan collagen is coming from consumers or people who are hyper-conscious about the things they eat, health, environment, wildlife, and similar. Uroš feels that this kind of people would also be very reserved regarding GMO vegan collagen. On the positive side, it is vegan; on the negative side, it comes from genetically modified organisms. 

As with every other thing, it has to be evaluated: we have to weigh the pros and cons of the product and decide what works best for us, consumers, and the planet. It is worth mentioning that conventional collagen is an upcycled ingredient that would be discarded if not used in nutricosmetics or another industry.

What Uroš finds problematic is also the price issue. The process of producing and harvesting GMO vegan collagen is very costly, which would probably make the products way too expensive.

Note: The production is limited!

Additionally, the current production is limited to a lab scale, which has to be upscaled to produce it at the industrial level. So far, we have not seen any timeline from the companies that claim to produce vegan collagen to specify when they will be able to switch to mass production. It is worth mentioning that these types of products are labeled as novel food in the EU, and they have to obtain gras status in the USA, which means that they are generally safe for consumption. This basically means that companies need to prove the product’s safety before putting it on the market. It goes without saying that this is a lengthy and rigorous process, which is a big problem.

As mentioned before, cost efficiency is a big challenge, which makes Uroš think, that the product might only be available for cosmetic surgery or similar, but not in products like food supplements or nutricosmetics.

Whichever it will be, when addressing beauty from within we can still rely on conventional collagen, which has proven results.

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