Real Cheese From A Lab, No Cow Necessary

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Vegans who miss the creamy taste of real cheese, rejoice! A group of biohackers from Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, Calif., and BioCurious in Sunnyvale, Calif., are using baker’s yeast to produce the world’s first cheese that did not originate from milk in the udder of a cow.

Most vegan cheese is soy or nut-based and doesn’t taste much like cheese at all. If you’ve been vegan for awhile you may not remember the creamy, salty, delicious taste of a good sharp cheddar or the pungent stink of Limburger or Brie. That’s all about to change for you, thanks to science.

By now you may have some questions as to how this is possible. The group, known as the San Francisco Bay Area iGEM Team, is engineering this very real cheese from a genetic sequence found in mammals. They plan to insert that sequence into the yeast, no cows needed. What you may be wondering at this point is how it’s vegan if the genetic sequence is from an animal. Here’s the trippy “magic of science” part. These natural milk protein genetic sequences are not actually from the animals, but based on the sequence found in animals. The scientists then take that DNA blueprint and build that same sequence in the lab from scratch. They take that lab-grown sequence and insert it into the yeast to make the necessary milk proteins.

Oh and here’s a part some of you may find weird – some of these “animal” DNA sequences may be human. They’ve taken DNA sequencing from humans to create some of the cheeses. The logic behind this is that it’s healthier for us to consume milk proteins produced from our own bodies than it is for us to digest cow milk. It also reduces allergens. Some people produce more mucous or have trouble breaking down the lactose from cow’s milk.

But for those who do not find the thought of human cheese appetizing, they also use cow DNA sequences to make milk for cow cheese. Mix in some water, oil and sugar and that makes a sort of milk to “grow” cheese that is cruelty, hormone and antibiotic free.

But creating cheese this way is really expensive. So the group launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $15K needed for all the initial ingredients. Lucky for them they’ve already hit their goal in less than two weeks. It’s at $15,460 as of this writing and has 30 days to go.

The group of unpaid volunteers plans to create four different variants of the baker’s yeast to make the cheeses. All research will be up on a public wiki as they get into it and “the patentable technology will be released into the public domain.”

These scientists would like to eventually see their lab-grown cheese out in stores for everyone to buy, but we’re still early days here. Group member, Craig Rouskey, says they first need to prove they can do this, then figure out how to scale up. The FDA will also need to approve this cheese. It will most likely have to be labeled “Not for human consumption” before that happens. The goal is to have the first batch ready to go by the end of the Indiegogo campaign in late August.