DIY Biotech: Artificial But Identical – Cow’s Milk Sans Cow
Counter Culture Labs has figured out how to make cow’s milk cheese without the cow “using mail-order DNA…tricking yeast cells into producing a substance that’s molecularly identical to milk” which they’ve called “Real Vegan Cheese.” The purpose of this research is multi-pronged: Vegans can consume food products that are normally obtained via animals, and the applications directly apply to DNA-hacking and will further things like three-dimensional printing.
“The movement self-consciously compares itself to the homebrew digital pioneers of the 1970s, who wrested digital technology out of academia and business.” For those unfamiliar with this comparison: Ideologically this means that anyone and everyone can work on contributing to the pioneering of techniques and research on DNA-hacking and three-dimensional printing, as was done in computing many years ago – this led to giant leaps of progress (instead of restricting development to only what appears to be profitable for business or what appears to have been useful for businesses on the academia side) and was how companies like Apple, Inc. were eventually founded. This also helps in bringing down the cost of processes, as is detailed in the Wired article: “We’ve reached the point where hacking DNA is neither technically difficult nor terrible expensive. Sequencing a human genome used to cost billions of dollars. Now, it costs a few thousands. The same Moore’s law-type effect has dramatically cut the cost…”
What does this do to terminology and public perception of “artificial” foods – if the production is different, but the end product identical? Imagine being able to produce a steak or a block of cheese with no animal-involvement and minimal legwork…where does that fit into labelling and the average vegan’s diet?
“Many vegans…frown on genetically modified organisms, and biotech critics question the safety of fiddling with nature’s alphabet.” The Real Vegan Cheese team claims that “the GMO debate doesn’t apply to their creation…[as it] won’t contain any genetically modified material…the actual product isn’t so different from food made using centuries-old techniques.”
This has lead to a call for regulation on this DIY culture (according to Dana Perls of Friends of Earth, it’s hard enough to manage traditional labs, let alone unregulated DIY labs), but Counter Culture Labs doesn’t seem to worried about this (the accidental spread of an artificially-created-and-grown organism) as not only are they not alone in this research (see: Muufri and Evolva), “the biggest challenge isn’t locking down their creations; it’s ensuring they survive at all.”
What do you think? Would you drink cow-free milk or eat cow-free cheese if, by all accounts, they were identical but animal-free?
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/NCI_swiss_cheese.jpg
New source: http://www.wired.com/2015/04/diy-biotech-vegan-cheese/