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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: 3, Insightful) by Covalent on Friday April 17 2015, @05:22PM

    by Covalent (43) on Friday April 17 2015, @05:22PM (#172113) Journal

    First, let me say I LOVE beef, cheese, leather, etc. I'm a murdering animal eater, through and through.

    But I'd really rather not be. Beef is so inefficient it is destroying the planet. Milk is little better. Yeast are incredibly efficient by comparison. If someone could incubate me a burger with a slice of melted vegan cheese on top, and the taste was close enough to be delicious, I'd go vegan in a heartbeat. It'd also probably be a fair bit cheaper, once the tech is perfected.

    And as for all the GMO-phobes that are freaking out here: We eat yeast already, and we eat milk already, and we eat the DNA of both of these creatures. We even eat them together (e.g. Blue Cheese). There is almost 0 risk from eating this, and a much greater risk of eating the real deal (diseased animals, environmental damage, climate change, the list goes on and on).

    So bring on the frankenmeat and vegan cheese. If it tastes good and costs less, people will very quickly get over their irrational fears. Don't believe me? Well cell phones cause brain cancer, and vaccines cause autism, and oh, wait, we're over that stuff because eventually people come around to facts, especially when there are real, concrete benefits from doing so. This will be much the same: A few vocal folks will scream Armageddon, but the rest of us will savor the delicious, yeasty goodness and move on with our lives.

    You can't rationally argue somebody out of a position they didn't rationally get into.
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