“Petri dish milk will mirror the formula of the real thing — the yeast cultures will be churning out real milk proteins — it will retain the taste and nutritional benefits of cow milk,” says Perumal Gandhi, a co-founder of the synthetic dairy start-up Muufri (pronounced Moo-free) in San Francisco, California. “That will distinguish it from soy – and almond-based alternatives.”
Gandhi and Muufri co-founder Ryan Pandya are both vegans who view the livestock industry’s practices as inhumane. “Dairy production is responsible for roughly 3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, mostly because cows belch methane. And although dairy is already a more efficient way than meat of converting plant feed into animal protein, bioengineers can do even better than nature,” Gandhi says.
Muufri will contain only those essential proteins, fats, minerals, and sugars. Pandya and Gandhi’s plan is to insert DNA sequences from cattle into yeast cells, grow the cultures at a controlled temperature and the right concentrations, and harvest milk proteins after a few days. The process is extremely safe, says Gandhi: It’s the same one used to manufacture insulin and other medicines.
Although the proteins in Muufri milk come from yeast, the fats come from vegetables and are tweaked at the molecular level to mirror the structure and flavor of milk fats. Minerals, like calcium and potassium, and sugars are purchased separately and added to the mix. Once the composition is fine-tuned, the ingredients emulse naturally into milk.
By controlling the ingredients, however, Pandya and Gandhi hope to make milk more healthful. The team is experimenting, for instance, with sugars other than lactose, which 65 percent of adults have trouble digesting. And it has engineered a more healthful, unsaturated fat that retains the distinct flavor of dairy. Reproducing that flavor is a prime goal for Gandhi and Pandya, who were not always vegan—and who say they miss the taste of cheese, butter, and ice cream.
Consider the First Source!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word choreographed an assembly of amino acids into an exquisite array of specific proteins. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” In so doing God demonstrated a penchant for genomic writing, preceeded by an amazing series of prebiotic events, in a highly orchestrated presentation of evolutionary overcontrol.