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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: 2) by ikanreed on Friday April 17 2015, @02:30PM

    by ikanreed (3164) on Friday April 17 2015, @02:30PM (#172051) Journal

    Guess what? Us having nukes is literally just idiots messing with nukes. We're an imperfect species. And overpopulation is threatening the long term stability of modern agricultural practices, which were needed because traditional agricultural practices couldn't sustain the population we had 30 years ago.

    These thousands of years of co-evolution can't take the place of actually considering the ramifications of our actions. And the FDA is the best food safety service in the history of humanity.

    The good news? Every fuckup is a lesson, and we're learning faster than ever.

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by kaszz on Friday April 17 2015, @10:48PM

    by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 17 2015, @10:48PM (#172212) Journal

    The problem is that our civilization can now do mistakes that screws up the whole planet for many generations or ends it all, dead stop. Learning faster is good. What's needed is to learn fast enough to not get caught up in any fatal mistake and some mistakes can only be made once. Evolution cannot really adapt to that. And decision making, profits and ramifications are separated in such way that it takes too long time for the feedback loop to take proper effect. The personality type in decision making positions are most often not the type you want to make long term decisions either.

    FDA is better than the situation in 18th-century London. But it's not the best food safety service in the history of humanity

  • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Saturday April 18 2015, @03:00AM

    by Reziac (2489) on Saturday April 18 2015, @03:00AM (#172273) Homepage

    Actually, modern agricultural production continues to increase its productivity; per a chart I saw recently, faster than the population rate. We no longer have a food shortage problem, tho some parts of the world have a food distribution problem.

    • (Score: 2) by ikanreed on Saturday April 18 2015, @12:41PM

      by ikanreed (3164) on Saturday April 18 2015, @12:41PM (#172379) Journal

      Actually, modern agricultural production continues to increase its productivity;

      This is true, but deceptive. The thing that's happening is that more of the world is converting to modern practices from traditional. This makes up the majority of the progress. Sure, science hasn't stopped and increasing yields fractionally more year over year is also happening, but not so fast as to beat out theoretical population growths.