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posted by CoolHand on Friday April 17 2015, @01:34PM   Printer-friendly
from the making-the-hippies-happy dept.

Wired has a profile of "Real Vegan Cheese", a product emerging from Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, California. The DIY/biotech lab is using genetically modified yeast cells to produce 11 proteins normally found in cow's milk, which can then be used to create synthetic cheese.

The genetic engineering approach to cheese has been enabled by the rapidly falling cost of DNA synthesis. It now costs less than $0.25 per base pair to obtain a custom DNA sequence which can be delivered by mail. Why make vegan cheese using yeast? Cheesemaking is an artisanal process with centuries of history and one of the earliest examples of human-directed microbiology. Existing plant-based vegan cheeses can't reproduce the casein proteins needed to achieve a passable cheese. However, Real Vegan Cheese will not use animal fat or lactose.

The process is not limited to bovine cheese:

When I visit the lab, I discover the cheese team includes a biologist, a bioethicist, a retired clinical psychologist, an accountant, and a former Apple marketer. "This to me is a natural extension of computer culture," says Maria Chavez, the ex-Apple employee and a leader of the vegan cheese project. "What is bigger to hack than our bodies and our environment? It's one of the last big frontiers. The possibilities are exciting."

The possibilities include not just vegan cow cheese, but, well, vegan human cheese. The same basic process for synthesizing cow's milk applies to milk from any other mammal. You just need different genes. Cheese made from engineered human breast milk may not sound like a top seller at the deli counter. But the team says it can serve a practical purpose: Human milk cheese could offer an option to people who have allergies to non-human dairy products. (Chavez said the group has put its experiments with human milk on hold due to Food and Drug Administration concerns about possible autoimmune reactions.)

The team is also attempting to create a narwhal cheese, after achieving the stretch goal on Indiegogo. The recipe and experiments involved will be released as "open source"; the DNA sequence(s) will be submitted to iGEM's Registry of Standard Biological Parts.

Critics of synthetic foods worry about the use of GMOs and the lightly regulated nature of biotechnology labs and hackerspaces. The Real Vegan Cheese team notes that the cheese itself isn't a GMO, only the yeast is. Other recent forays into synthetic food include Muufri's synthetic milk, and Evolva's vanilla/vanillin and saffron substitutes.

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  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 17 2015, @01:38PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 17 2015, @01:38PM (#172012)

    The dirty hippies are more likely to have toe cheese than eat GMO anything, even if vegan.

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  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Ethanol-fueled on Friday April 17 2015, @01:45PM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Friday April 17 2015, @01:45PM (#172018) Homepage

    Indeed, Richard Stallman considers his own toe cheese a delicacy. []

    Which is pretty typical of free software users, and why you mentioned it.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by ikanreed on Friday April 17 2015, @02:24PM

    by ikanreed (3164) on Friday April 17 2015, @02:24PM (#172046) Journal

    Hey, but what about scientific environmentalists who have to tacitly acknowledge the harm caused by large scale animal farming, while still thinking animal products are delicious? What about us?

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday April 17 2015, @02:29PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday April 17 2015, @02:29PM (#172050) Journal

      petri dish meat FTW

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by morgauxo on Friday April 17 2015, @03:13PM

        by morgauxo (2082) on Friday April 17 2015, @03:13PM (#172068)

        I predict that someday the most common meat will be lab grown human flesh.


        I think lab grown meat will eventually be perfected. At first it will be made of normal farm-type animals of course.
        Many vegetarians and vegans will start eating this meat because it isn't killing animals to do so anymore.
        Now that one can refrain from killing animals without giving up meat this will become very popular as most people like animals.. they just also happen to be onmivores that crave meat.

        As it becomes more popular manufacturing will be scaled up so that lab grown meat will just be more common in the supermarket and cheaper. Even if you don't care about killing animals.. why bother buying some specialized non-lab meat?

        But.. there will still be a flaw. All that lab grown chicken and steak.. the original sample had to come from somewhere! Maybe they can do it using just a small biopsy without killing the animal? Even that is a little invasive and there is no way the animal could consent.

        But.. there is one animal who COULD consent to offering a sample of muscle tissue. HUMANS!

        So.. the ultimate destination of the "lab meat movement"... CANIBALISM!

        Mmmmmm! Can't Wait!!!!

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday April 17 2015, @03:23PM

          by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday April 17 2015, @03:23PM (#172072) Journal

          If you can create the DNA of the starter cell synthetically from a known sequence and insert it into a synthetic nucleus and cell, you can reduce the suffering of the animal kingdom to an ultimate minimum!

          I for one welcome our lab grown penguin, lion, narwhal, and of course, human burgers. The ultimate burger: self-cannibalism with a side of you.

          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
          • (Score: 2) by morgauxo on Monday April 20 2015, @03:37PM

            by morgauxo (2082) on Monday April 20 2015, @03:37PM (#173153)

            self-cannibalism -- OMG, how did I not think of that?!?!

        • (Score: 2) by choose another one on Friday April 17 2015, @04:05PM

          by choose another one (515) on Friday April 17 2015, @04:05PM (#172083)

          Soylent News / Green / Steak is people!

    • (Score: 2) by mtrycz on Friday April 17 2015, @06:11PM

      by mtrycz (60) on Friday April 17 2015, @06:11PM (#172130)

      As a vegetarian*, I too think that meat** is delicious.

      * quasi-lacto-ovo-piscitarian
      * some meats, like becon, sausages, and mom's gravy. I don't miss most meats, personally.

      In capitalist America, ads view YOU!
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18 2015, @06:37AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18 2015, @06:37AM (#172318)

        And I'm a hardcore vegan who eats meat occasionally. But I'm a vegan, believe me.