MUUFRI: “Let’s make milk!”
The first artificial milk, without a cow and with the help of genetically engineered yeast, in an effort to put more environmentally sustainable option on the market.
In San Francisco, California, two young bioengineers: Perumal Gandhi and Ryan Pandya, received 2 million dollars as a financial backing for their start-up called MUUFRI (pronounced “Moo-free”).
The first milk entirely created in laboratory from cultures of genetically modified yeasts that retains the taste and health benefits of real milk but has nothing to do with the cows; a milk created in order to develop more sustainable option for the environment.
These two scientists are both vegans and view the livestock industry’s practices as inhumane and unsustainable: animals are mistreated and used as machines only for the production and to maximize profits. The cows are fed with feed and grains (often GMO) instead of grass, so the milk is often full of hormones and antibiotics, and can be very harmful to the health of consumers, especially if you considers that those who drink it most are children and teenagers.
Should not be underestimated, also the environmental impact that dairy production has: it is responsible for roughly 3% of global gas emissions (CO2) each year; moreover for its production are necessary tons of water (1 liter of milk requires about 1000 liters of water for its production).
Meanwhile, worldwide dairy consumption continues to grow every year.
With their discovery (besides getting rich), these two men hope to transform the lives of billions cows living in inhumane conditions and improve the environmental impact of the livestock on our planet.
Fortunately for them, synthesizing cow’s milk is a relatively simple process. It’s got less than 20 components, and consists of about 87% of water; 6 proteins to help form its structure and function; 8 different fatty acids to give it its rich flavor; minerals and sugar.
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, because it’s the same process that pharmaceutical companies used to manufacture insulin and other medicines.
By controlling the ingredients, however, they both hope to make milk more healthful. The team is experimenting, for instance, different sugar than lactose (wich 65% of adults have trouble digesting); or deleting bad cholesterol (LDL) and because it won’t contain bacteria like regular milk does, the shelf-life will be much longer.
“This milk retains the same taste and health benefits of real milk, setting it apart from soy, rice, and almond milk varieties. If we want the world to change its diet from a product that isn’t sustainable to something that is, it has to be identical [to], or better than, the original product,” Gandhi says. “The world will not switch from milk from a cow to the plant-based milks. But if our cow-less milk is identical and priced right, they just might.”
The two scientists, to reassure those who are worried about GMO, say that the yeast itself is harmless, declaring: “We’ve essentially crippled the yeast, so if it does go out in the world, it’ll produce only milk proteins and die within hours.”
The pair hopes to have their milk on the market by 2017; at the beginning it will be more expensive than regular milk, but later will become even more economical through large-scale production.
But Can It Catch On?
And you, would you drink it?
Source: National Geographic, Gizmag