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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 maxwell demon on Friday April 17 2015, @04:53PM

    by maxwell demon (1608) on Friday April 17 2015, @04:53PM (#172106) Journal

    Hmm ... what if they sequenced that gene, created an identical DNA sequence from scratch, and then inserted that? Then only the information comes from the animal; but if you don't allow information from animals, then you cannot eat any prepared food since into the recipe went information from the cook's brain.

    The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday April 17 2015, @05:05PM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday April 17 2015, @05:05PM (#172107) Journal

    It's all code now. As long as you can get a sample, sequence, and store, synthesis is possible. []

    Sequence everything.

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  • (Score: 2) by morgauxo on Monday April 20 2015, @03:49PM

    by morgauxo (2082) on Monday April 20 2015, @03:49PM (#173158)

    Where did you get the original gene to sequence?

    • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Monday April 20 2015, @06:04PM

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Monday April 20 2015, @06:04PM (#173209) Journal

      From a blood sample. If taking a blood sample is unethical, you have to stop all modern medicine, because, oh horror, it takes blood samples of humans.

      And the blood sample you've taken the gene sequence from isn't in the food, so the food is not "contaminated" with animal products.

      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.