Synthetic Milk

UntitledLittle more than a year has passed since a team of scientists in London invited members of the press to watch them eat the world’s first lab-grown burger at a public demonstration. As the scientists explained at the time, the burger had not been taken from a dead cow, and had, instead, been grown in a laboratory dish from cells that had been taken from a live cow. They insisted that the burger tasted just like any burger. I was impressed enough that I ranked the milestone/stunt the 9th biggest science story of 2013. Now comes word that a San Francisco-based start-up named Muufri is attempting to develop milk without animals. The milk will instead be derived from a witches’ brew of genetically engineered yeast cells, genetically engineered vegetables, and a sprinkling of minerals like potassium and calcium. The entrepreneurial scientists behind Muufri insist that their lab-grown milk will be identical to the bovine variety in every way, and that their process will save cows from suffering the indignities of industrial dairying. My own informal polling has convinced me that most people still find the concept of lab-grown milk kinda gross for some reason, but I wonder if we’ll remain so principled when chemically identical milk is available for a fraction of the price. Speaking of the growing distance between people and livestock in this increasingly industrialized world, the overhead banner, which shows a milkmaid among cans of condensed milk (but no cows), was taken from an illustration that Samuel D. Ehrhart first drew for Puck magazine more than a hundred years ago. You can view the entire illustration at this link, courtesy of the Library of Congress.