The milk industry is poised for a transformation as a Singapore start-up, TurtleTree Labs is ready with its cell-based milk production and has successfully availed funding. Human breast milk, as well as cultured milk products, are going to be a click away.
Cell-based milk is a product of cellular agriculture research that was commercialised for medical purposes in the 20th century. It started with the production of insulin, rennet and omega-3 with the help of bacteria and yeasts. The industry is now moving on to cultured meat and milk products.
Why Cell-Based Milk
Because animal farming is causing environmental damage, there is a need to look for alternatives for animal products. The worldwide popularity of veganism has placed plant-based food in the forefront. Yet there is a big market for animal products that cannot be replaced. With the advent of research through biotechnology, molecular biology and tissue engineering, ‘clean meat’ and ‘clean milk’ is a reality for consumers of animal products.
In case of the cultivated milk industry, so far the production was limited to rennet to make cheese and isolating casein and whey to produce milk products such as yogurt and ice-cream. Yeast cultures are used to produce milk proteins to prepare these products. None of these processes has ever used animal cells.
Achievements of TurtleTree
TurtleTree Labs has had a breakthrough in devising a way to generate milk from stem cells. This is the first time a company is producing real whole milk through cell cultivation while minimum disturbance is caused to natural resources.
The company has developed an exclusive technology of using mammary cells, derived from stem cells, to produce real, clean milk. This technology will produce human breast milk or cow milk for commercial usage which will be safe, healthy and a customised product.
The co-founders CEO Fengru Lin, CSO Rabail Toor, and Chief Strategist Max Rye have declared that they have completed their pre-seed funding round and are waiting for the patent to arrive.
From Stem Cell to Milk
Dr. Rabail Toor explained the steps in the process of making cell-based milk. First, the stem cells are sourced from milk. Secondly, under controlled lab conditions, these cells are converted to mammary gland cells. In the third step, a special formula induces the mammary gland cells to produce milk. Next, the milk is separated from the cells through filtration.
This whole process takes about three weeks and the end product depends on the mammal whose milk cells were used. The same procedure can be used to produce human breast milk. The company is ready with the ‘laboratory quantities’ to be presented soon.
The Challenges to Overcome
The quality of donor milk will impact the quality of the final human breast milk produced. Therefore, the mother’s health, upbringing, diet and lifestyle would be some factors to be careful about. To achieve uniformity, enough antibodies, high-fat content and creaminess, the company is looking for hundreds of volunteers.
Educating the consumers about the nutrition and hygiene of this lab-produced clean milk would be an initial challenge. They have to be convinced that though not produced by a mammal, this milk has no hormones or chemicals and doesn’t come from unhealthy mothers.
The targets are steep. The company is going to have samples of breast milk ready for investors by next year. Along with that, the company wants to set up a pilot plant with a capacity of 500 litres per day, and also venture into milk products such as cheese and butter.
The company does not want to rival other industry leaders in the field such as Nestle and Danone but wants to work in collaboration. They refuse to compete on the pricing since, the product is real breast milk; very different from baby formula.
Their pre-seed funding was done by Lever VC, followed by KBW Ventures and K2 Global. This fund will be used to form the scientific team and create more prototypes. With the help of AStarCentral, the company is on the verge of having a lab in Singapore.
The co-founders of TurtleTree Labs believe that their proprietary technology of cell-based milk will provide better milk, and change the future of milk production and consumption forever.
Lead image credits to TurtleTree Labs.
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