Oakland’s Counter Culture Labs and Sunnyvale’s BioCurious are teaming up to make vegan cheese in the lab. But this is no dubious nut or soy cheese. We’re talking the real deal—only no animals were harmed, or even directly involved, in the making of the cheese.
In their recently launched Indiegogo campaign, the Real Vegan Cheese team describes how this is possible. As you might have guessed, the secret is a combination of genomics, synthetic biology, and genetic modification.
The team first studied animal genomes to isolate the gene sequences responsible for producing milk protein or casein. After optimizing the genes to work within yeast, they synthesized the gene from scratch in a genetic compiler, base pair by base pair. There’s no need to touch a cow in the making of the cheese.
These synthetic milk genes are inserted into yeast cells which begin manufacturing caseins. After the cells have been left to do their thing for awhile, the scientists separate yeast from caseins, add sugar (not lactose—making the cheese edible for the lactose intolerant), water, and vegetable oil.
They now have real (synthetically derived) milk and can make any cheese using traditional techniques. And when they say any cheese, they mean it. The process isn’t constrained to cow DNA. They could, for example, use human genes. This may be disturbing, but in fact, we’re better at digesting milk from our own species.
This oughta placate the most hard-core of vegans…