Got (genetically modified) milk?

Researchers in Ireland are coming close to creating a type of milk that is unlike anything currently on grocery store shelves today. It’s nutritious and delicious—and it is made completely animal free.

While milks made from plants and other proteins (soy, almond, rice, for instance) are currently available, there is one defining element that makes this new laboratory product stand out above the rest: it is genetically identical to cow’s milk.

The man-made cow’s milk is the brain child of Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi of University College Cork in Ireland. Partially funded by Singularity University’s Synthetic Biology Accelerator program, these bioengineers are getting very close to an animal-free prototype of milk.

They call it Muufri, a start-up in San Francisco co-founded by Pandya and Gandhi.

“If you have all the right ingredients, making milk by hand can actually be pretty easy,” Pandya said in a Washington Post article.

Pandya and Gandhi have modified sunflower oil to make it similar in structural composition to milk fats, as well as substituted lactose for the nearly-indistinguishable sugar, galactose. They have also cultured yeast to release casein, a natural animal milk protein, the Washington Post reports.

It was all just a matter of chemistry. And now, it’s a matter of saving the environment, too.

According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes about 1,000 liters of water to produce one liter of milk. Pandya believes that by making the milk-creating process entirely in-house, production and processing can be far more controlled than that of regular milk production.

“We’re basically using biotechnology to make milk without pasteurization and without the risk of contaminants like pesticides, hormones or bacteria that can spoil the milk quickly,” Pandya said. “It’s quite similar to the process to make medicine and insulin, so it will be super sterile.”

This is not the first take at cowless-milk. Attempts in both 1912 and 1921 used various products and proteins to create their synthetic milk, but neither created much appeal with the masses.

With that, Pandya and Gandhi believe that though they’re getting close, they have a long way to go before they can truly resemble traditional milk. They are currently working on trying to “[take] the approach of feeding the DNA sequence for cow’s milk into the yeast’s genetic code to make casein,” which could be completed as early as next month.

The ultimate goal for Muufri and its cofounders is to have the product in some Californian stores before 2017.

“Part of the reason why we’ve come this far and to put in the effort to see if it would work is because we’re passionate animal lovers at heart,” Pandya added.

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