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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 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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