Lab-Made Dairy Is In: No Cows, No Nuts, No Joke!


A range of animal products, including milk and cheese, can now be fermented in the lab using a familiar brewing processes, forcing regulators to reconsider what truly defines "dairy."


In the midst of a food revolution, Pandya's Perfect Day company is leading the way. Perfect Day creates real milk without using animal bi-products, nuts or oats. Using genetically engineered microorganisms, the company grows milk protein-producing bacteria in a bioreactor. The milk proteins created in the lab are identical to the real proteins found in milk produced from cows.


Most people are already familiar with plant-based burgers such as Beyond Meat. The same concept can be viewed here, with dairy, with a process called "precision fermentation."

What Is Precision Fermentation?

Precision fermentation is a process producing animal products with genetically modified microorganisms.

Microbial fermentation is not a new method of food production. You most likely use products of microbial fermentation every day such as bread, beer, wine, kombucha, plus so many other foods. A new technology was added to these traditional ferments, when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized bioengineered chymosin, also known as rennet, for making cheeses. The rennet enzyme causes casein in milk to curdle, and was traditionally obtained from unweaned veal calves' stomachs. The majority of rennet made today is made using genetically modified microorganisms.


Biotechnology, cellular agriculture, and precision fermentation all fall under the broader industry of cellular agriculture, which is most well known for cultured meat and seafood. Meat is created from animal stem cells, treated with growth media and developed into muscle, fat, and connective tissue. As opposed to that, milk is simply a suspension of biomolecules in water, which makes it easier to create.


Milk is primarily composed of six proteins - four caseins and two wheys - plus fats, sugars, and minerals. Currently, fermented dairy producers concentrate most of their efforts on protein components of milk rather than whole milk. Take Perfect Day, for example, for use as food ingredients, they create whey proteins in fungi, Trichoderma reesei, specifically.


Josh Milburn, a scholar who studies the relationship between humans and animals at the University of Sheffield, UK, says theoretically, compared to real milk, cultured milk could be healthier. Antibiotics and hormones are not used in cultivated milk, so it has a lower risk of transmitting food-borne infections. A healthy fat can be added and nutrients may be fortified to make it more nutrient dense. It can also be made without lactose, which many people can't digest.


The welfare of animals has a significant impact on milk production. Milking cows to exhaustion is a routine part of dairy farming, as well as, the male calves with surplus to requirements are repeatedly sexed, separated from their offspring, and disposed of. Using live animals to produce milk is incredibly inefficient and the dairy industry itself contributes 4% to our greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. However, if cows are excluded, these problems disappear. With the exception of sample collection for stem cells, and DNA, there are no animals involved which cancels animal welfare concerns.


With this being said, the grass is greener on the other side- especially for cows!

Citations


Lawton, Graham. “Real milk, no cows needed: Lab-made dairy products are now a reality.NewScientist, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25133470-900-real-milk-no-cows-needed-lab-made-dairy-products-are-now-a-reality/. Accessed 9 September 2021.








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