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Whether toasted, grated, sliced, used in pizza, or melted atop a hamburger patty, cheese is a mainstay in many of our diets today. But what's the cost of this turophilia?
In the United States alone, roughly 9 million cows are devoted to churning out torrents of milk a year which, over time, can begin to take a toll on our planet's resources. What's more, tens of millions of Americans are increasingly unable to consume cow milk-based cheese without discomfort because they develop lactose intolerance.
With those considerations in mind, food scientists are exploring non-dairy alternatives and conceiving new ways to mimic—or even improve—the sensory delights of, say, a perfectly toasted cheese melt.
Gene editing as a solution came into the picture in the form of a young woman who became lactose intolerant but just couldn't bear the thought of giving up cheese. Magi Richani, a Shell engineer, set out to find a plant-based alternative to her favorite food.
Plunging deeply into cheese production, Richani found that casein, the principal cow-derived component of cheese could be created "without the cow" using gene-edited soybeans. And, with the right settings, this could make a cheese that stretches, tastes and toasts "just like the real thing from cows and goats."
Plant-Based Cheese with Casein
The principal cow-derived component of cheese can be created without a cow, using gene-edited soybeans. With the right settings, this could make a cheese that stretches, tastes and toasts just like the real thing.
Just another bubble-up application of gene-editing? Well this year, her startup company, Nobell Foods, received a second-level financing boost of $75 million from savvy investors who recognized her products might just revolutionize the way we eat.
Not only do Nobell products come closer and closer to the taste of dairy cheese, but they may also ultimately compete on price with milk-based products—and even boost the profits of soybean farmers.
"We're not going to change the system by asking people to pay two, three, five, ten times more for the alternative, right?" says Richani. "Plants are the cheapest way to make proteins, and if we can change their profile so they're making any protein we want, we can compete."
Although cows are commoditized at a large scale and dairy is subsidized by the government, she adds that "we can still compete, and not just compete—eventually we can undercut that price structure, because of the fact that we're working with plants."
Gene-editing pioneers, like Magi, are charging forward with a fresh, cheesy solution for us all.