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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, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 17 2015, @02:12PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 17 2015, @02:12PM (#172038)

    The Real Vegan Cheese team notes that the cheese itself isn't a GMO, only the yeast is.

    People who are against GMOs aren't exactly rational about it to begin with, so don't expect the above reasoning to hold much sway with them. And I'm pretty sure there is a pretty large overlap between vegans and anti-GMO types. This stuff isn't going to have a very large market demand.

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by takyon on Friday April 17 2015, @02:23PM

    by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday April 17 2015, @02:23PM (#172045) Journal

    They asked for $15k on Indiegogo and received $37,369, and almost none of the backers will actually get to try the cheese. If DNA synthesis costs decline enough, anybody could try to make their own using the free research which has been done for them, with a similar cost to say, homebrewing beer as a hobby.

    Anything that forces even a handful of hippy/anti-GMO/reactionaries to rethink the nature of food and their GMO stance is a good thing.

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  • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Friday April 17 2015, @02:30PM

    by darkfeline (1030) on Friday April 17 2015, @02:30PM (#172052) Homepage

    How exactly would they separate the yeast from the cheese? Even if they kill all the yeast, presumably their GMO cellular corpses will still be in the cheese.

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    • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Friday April 17 2015, @08:24PM

      by SlimmPickens (1056) on Friday April 17 2015, @08:24PM (#172184)

      The same way you get it out of wine, with a filter.

      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 17 2015, @11:03PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 17 2015, @11:03PM (#172219) Journal

        And we are here dealing with a perfect process? or "oops"..

        • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Saturday April 18 2015, @12:25AM

          by SlimmPickens (1056) on Saturday April 18 2015, @12:25AM (#172230)

          I think the one's used for beer and wine are a bit oops but on the other hand there's filters small enough to filter salt. The yeast are much larger than the proteins, which I imagine are the largest things you need to let through.

      • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Saturday April 18 2015, @11:03PM

        by darkfeline (1030) on Saturday April 18 2015, @11:03PM (#172625) Homepage

        Isn't it harder to filter particles out of a solid object, as opposed to a liquid?

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        • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Saturday April 18 2015, @11:58PM

          by SlimmPickens (1056) on Saturday April 18 2015, @11:58PM (#172647)

          Cheese is made from a liquid (milk) and you can be sure this product starts out as a liquid because yeast don't function without water.

          • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Sunday April 19 2015, @08:01PM

            by darkfeline (1030) on Sunday April 19 2015, @08:01PM (#172911) Homepage

            I don't think there's much of a point filtering yeast out of milk, and once it has become cheese, it's decidedly NOT liquid. Even the softest cheeses, like mozzarella, are solid and I can't imagine a physical filter capable of removing the yeast from the curds.

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            • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Sunday April 19 2015, @08:44PM

              by SlimmPickens (1056) on Sunday April 19 2015, @08:44PM (#172927)

              I'm not talking about filtering a solid cheese, I don't know why you keep saying that.

              Why would you not filter the milk? It's cheap and not difficult and would make some vegans happy.

              • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Monday April 20 2015, @02:26PM

                by darkfeline (1030) on Monday April 20 2015, @02:26PM (#173131) Homepage

                We're currently talking about vegan cheese made with GMO yeast, whether the fact that being GMO would dissuade vegans, and whether that yeast can be removed from the cheese.

                I have no idea where you got the idea that we are talking about milk, posting in a thread about vegan cheese, on an article about vegan cheese.

                In fact, being vegan cheese, milk doesn't enter into the picture at all.

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                • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Monday April 20 2015, @08:30PM

                  by SlimmPickens (1056) on Monday April 20 2015, @08:30PM (#173268)

                  The yeast make casein which is what turns a liquid into cheese in the presence of heat and acid.

                  I'm not making this up. I make both cheese and alcohol, one of them I did for a living. You're just imagining magic cheese.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by FatPhil on Saturday April 18 2015, @07:52AM

      by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Saturday April 18 2015, @07:52AM (#172328) Homepage
      Well, they way they separate yeast from the rest of beer is to use finings. Made from bits of murdered fish...
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  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 17 2015, @11:00PM

    by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 17 2015, @11:00PM (#172218) Journal

    Being rational, you know every effect of GMO ? you'll see the body is made up of 10s of millions of chemical reactions to work. And the ecosystem is made up of a lot more. When you know every effect and side effect, then there's perhaps enough background information to make a rational decision.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by lajos on Saturday April 18 2015, @01:34AM

    by lajos (528) on Saturday April 18 2015, @01:34AM (#172258)

    +1. Every piece of food we eat (especially vegetables and fruits) have been GMOd for thousands of years.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18 2015, @04:05AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18 2015, @04:05AM (#172290)

    I used to be pro GMO, but am disappointed in what they are actually used for-- increasing the quantity of herbicides sprayed on fields mainly. With an even more worrying side-effect of reducing genetic diversity to the point where most of our staple crops are clones of a single cultivar-- I foresee famine when the inevitable disease hits this new extreme mono cropping. I also am concerned about genes jumping to other related plants and destroying natural genetic diversity (e.g., Roundup Ready canola genes are found in wild rape).

    If you think any of the above is irrational, please explain.

    As far as vegan cheese, the point of this stuff will not be that any vegan will give a lick about it-- most probably won't. It will be very popular if it can be produced at lower cost than traditional cheese. Purveyors of food-like substances like Mc Donalds and Kraft will be huge buyers. And, folks will eat it knowingly or not because it is cheap.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18 2015, @04:57AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 18 2015, @04:57AM (#172304)

      Its most practical application is as a vat-grown source of protein for long space voyages (think early missions to Mars, Venus, or the belt). It might also help if you're trying to reduce methane emmissions from cows. Wouldn't do me much good though, since I'm intolerant of not just lactose, but also other milk/cheese proteins like casein.