Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Mars and Perfect Day have created the new CO2COA dairy-free chocolate bar | Mars
The biotech startup uses microflora to produce whey protein that’s genetically identical to the milk-derived version, without a cow in sight. And it’s poised for massive impacts, thanks to a growing number of brand partnerships.
in Nature suggests that shifting from animal-based to plant-based
in high-income countries could help the agricultural sector reduce its annual
greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 61 percent, with the potential to
simultaneously increase the carbon sequestration of restored lands.
The problem is, consuming dairy is an indelible part of global culture:
have found evidence that people have been ingesting dairy products for at least
6,000 years. Cheese is revered the world over, especially in Europe and North
and the average US citizen consumed roughly 40
of dairy products in 2021.
But between its fueling of climate
and outsized resource use, it’s
clear we must shift our dependence away from livestock agriculture to ensure a
sustainable future. Changing people’s eating habits is easier said than done;
but what if people could eat their favorite snacks without feeling anxious about
the environmental impact?
Thanks to the work of food tech startups such as Perfect
Day, we may all soon be able to enjoy some of our
traditionally most resource-intensive, guilty-pleasure culinary indulgences
without worrying about further damaging the planet. And thanks to its growing
list of brand partners, Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy products are beginning
to proliferate the market.
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In 2014, vegan bioengineers Ryan
Pandya and Perumal
Gandhi decided to do
something about the then-lack of acceptable dairy alternatives available on the
market. They started by exploring what gives milk its appealing, creamy texture
— two proteins, whey and casein.
Their ideas soon captured the attention of press and investors; and they secured
an initial seed round from Horizons
Ventures founder Solina Chau — allowing
them to delve deeper into the possibility of dairy beyond cows, and adding them
to the growing list of innovators including Aleph
and Opalia that are working to remove cows and their environmental impacts
from our diets without removing the foods we love.
Even though no cows are involved in the company’s methods, the team soon renamed
their company (which had launched under the name Muufri) after Lou
Reed’s hit song, “Perfect Day” — which, according to a 2001 University of
found to be one of the top, lower-tempo
songs that helped cows relax,
increasing their milk production. Now, Perfect Day produces whey protein with
the help of
— reducing the stress on dairy cows (which are kept artificially ‘pregnant’
through the use of
to ensure constant milk production), as well as the lands currently used to
supply the world’s demand for dairy.
Thanks to the Bovine Genome
Project in 2009,
sequenced DNA from cows has become easily accessible. Perfect Day took
information about its desired protein and introduced genetic instructions into
a solution with hundreds of millions of microflora cells — a process called
precision fermentation — through which some of the microorganisms incorporate
the instruction to create whey protein into their own DNA.
The resulting protein is filtered out from the microflora, purified and dried
into a non-animal whey protein isolate that tastes and looks just like the
products made from cow milk, but sparing the cow from the process. At Perfect
Day, microflora are regarded as ‘miniature factories’ because of their ability
to rapidly expand to deliver useful ingredients at a large scale.
After six years of trial and error, Perfect Day’s first product — the world’s
first precision fermentation protein — debuted in 2020; shortly after, the team
joined forces with a longtime dairy industry product developer to launch a
sustainably focused consumer food company called the Urgent
Company. Urgent’s first product: Brave
made from Perfect Day’s whey protein and indistinguishable from traditional ice
cream. In 2021, Brave Robot
celebrated selling 1
million pints (which the company estimated saved the equivalent GHG emissions
from driving a million miles) and becoming the number-one driver of growth in
the plant-based ice cream category.
Since then, a growing catalog of brands and
products — including Tomorrow’s
— are using Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein to make lower-impact dairy
products without compromising on taste, texture or nutritional value.
An ISO-certified life cycle assessment showed
that Perfect Day’s production process releases up to 97 percent fewer GHGs than
production of conventional dairy. Further analysis found that its whey protein
production uses up to 99 percent less blue water and up to 60 percent less
non-renewable energy, compared to conventional methods.
Because Perfect Day’s whey protein is identical to that found in milk products,
it matches the latter’s nutritional profile — providing a high-quality
ingredient with amino acids that are vital to a healthy human body — with the
added bonus of being lactose free. Removing cows from the equation also means
eliminating the need for hormones, antibiotics or any other human interference
that could adversely affect the quality of our foods.
There are about 270 million dairy cows in the world — in addition to milk, they
produce large-scale manure and emissions that release GHGs including carbon
impacting local water sources and adversely affecting the biodiversity in
forests, wetlands and prairies. In comparison, microflora measure a few
micrometers in size — so, you could fit hundreds of millions in a single cow —
making these tiny factories a promising option for helping us reduce our
dependence on increasingly scarce natural resources.
Published Aug 19, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Nina Purton is the founder of Eco Writing — a startup providing blog marketing for projects and businesses with sustainability goals. With a background in English literature and a lifelong passion for eco-friendly practices, Nina started her journey with small initiatives which resulted in collaborations with larger projects and businesses. Nina now blends her knack for creativity, research skills, and knowledge to inspire innovative and healthier interactions with the natural environment.