Precision fermentation:a dairy game-changer

There is a future where the milk you love will come without the cow.

Remember the old days when milk was delivered to our doorsteps? Glass bottles with the cream on top? This was a reality for many up until the ‘80s. This distant memory is in stark contrast to the world of milk we know today.

fresh milk bottle and old can on the table in cowshed

Plant-based alternatives such as soy, oat, almond and macadamia have been trending strongly over the last few years. Reasons why can be largely attributed to a shift in consumer preferences, with many turning away from traditional dairy products and opting for plant-based alternatives due to health, environmental and ethical concerns

Front view of a drinking glass, a bottle and a jug filled with fresh organic vegan milks surrounded by oat flakes, soy beans, quinoa seeds, rice grains, spelt grains, hazelnuts, almonds and coconuts pieces. Low key DSLR photo taken with Canon EOS 6D Mark II and Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4L

(FACT) : Analysis by Rabobank shows that the largest consumers of dairy alternatives are Millennials and Generation Z, due to perceptions of health and sustainability benefits.

So, what’s next for dairy?

While plant-based milks continue to grow, consumption of cow’s milk is slowing in some major markets, even though it is still the most popular milk format on the planet. So, how can traditional dairy remove the baggage that drives its decline while maintaining the critical need for its bioavailable nutrients and versatility?

At All G Foods we have the mission of designing a sustainable food future, a food future that is all good and tastes good too. Our team is working hard to produce milk that can be made without the need for cows.

Thanks to a foundational technology, called precision fermentation, we’ve been able to develop quality dairy proteins, identical to traditional dairy proteins that will eventually allow us to create all kinds of dairy products, entirely cow-free.

What is precision fermentation?

Technological equipment in modern  dairy plant

Let’s start by decoding fermentation. Did you know that yoghurt, beer, cocoa (chocolate) and sourdough (bread) are made using fermentation?

Fermentation has been used for thousands of years to preserve and enhance the texture, taste and nutrition of foods and drinks. The process involves taking an original food, say barley to create beer, and then mixing it with microflora such as yeast to convert the starch and sugars of the barley into beer (alcohol).

In precision fermentation, food producers use similar microflora hosts, such as yeast, but instead of them consuming nutrients to produce alcohol, food producers use them as cell ‘factories’ by programming the cells to produce a specific ingredient of interest. These ingredients, like dairy proteins, can then be used to reproduce milk or used to enhance plant-based products1.

For All G Foods, their microflora is reprogramed and encoded with dairy protein DNA (taken from a digital database that contains structural information of protein-DNA complexes—and not directly from an animal) to create dairy protein-producing microflora.

These are then placed in a fermentation tank (similar to those used in beer brewing) where they consume plant-based sugar and nutrients to grow. In this process, the microflora are programmed to produce proteins identical to those found in dairy milk. The proteins are then filtered out to produce a pure dairy protein isolate, which can then be combined with plant-based or other fermented ingredients to craft dairy favourites like milk, cheese, yoghurt, or any other dairy protein-based food or beverage.

“Just like we use yeast to make alcohol, we now can program yeast (or other microflora) to produce the ingredient that we want, instead of alcohol. In our case, we are reprograming yeast to make dairy proteins,” says All G Foods’ Head of Precision Fermentation & Dairy, Dr Jared Raynes.

“The term ‘precision fermentation’ is relatively new, but the process behind it has been used within other industries for decades. Scientists have been using artificially produced proteins to study all kinds of things, including insulin. Then we thought, ‘why not apply this to food proteins?’”

“Milk contains hundreds of proteins but at the heart of it are six key types, four caseins that combine into what is called a casein micelle and two whey proteins. The casein micelle is what gives milk its unique nutrition and many of the textures found in dairy products. For us it means that once we have fermented the individual proteins we can reassemble them into casein micelles or purify and dry key singular proteins for multiple applications, just how it is done in the

dairy industry now. We are able to create these delicious, bioavailable protein sources, all without the need for cows.

But… why? Can’t we just replace dairy with plant-based proteins?

milk shell

It’s a good question and the answer is yes, and no.

Plant-based proteins have been used to offset animal agriculture in a variety of ways, but the reality is that these proteins lack nutritional, functional and sensory aspects that you can get from animal-sourced proteins.

Other than being a lot kinder to the planet and its animals, using precision fermentation enables us to create dairy products that come loaded up with all the nutritional goodness naturally found in animal-produced dairy—without the baggage (think hormones, environmental impact, lactose and cholesterol).

A recent survey undertaken by CSIRO and the University of Adelaide showed that one in six Australian adults are now avoiding dairy. The study’s research team said the results were concerning and indicated a potential for nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. The most recent Australian dietary guidelines suggest most people need 2 – 3 serves of dairy a day and also state it is a good source of many nutrients, including calcium, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc3. Dairy is also an important source of high-quality protein that stems from high bioavailability and high levels of essential amino acids4.

In addition to nutrition, products such as milk and yoghurt change significantly when made with plant-based proteins, which becomes a barrier for dairy lovers looking to switch to plant-based dairy alternatives. While dairy consumption reduces in many western markets there is still a large demand for dairy products and the different dairy streams that feed many household products around the world that most people would not even know is there.

Regardless of plant-based protein innovation, herds around the world will need to grow to meet the growing global dairy demand and based on current impact estimates this is simply not possible. As the dairy industry scrambles to keep up, some intensive dairy farms have been reported to be causing irreversible harm to animals and the planet.

“There is the growing population of the world and there are finite resources to graze cattle and grow animals on. Currently animal agriculture utilises over a third of the ice-free land surface worldwide and with the double protein needed by 2050 I am driven to create the proteins of the future through this exciting technology,” explains Dr Raynes.

(FACT): Precision fermentation produces 84 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions and requires 98 per cent less water to make compared to conventional dairy products1.

Milk mixing in the stainless tank during the fermentation process at the cheese manufacturing

Did you know that precision fermentation already plays a crucial role in how cheese is created?

Back in the day, rennet taken from the stomach of a baby cow was required to curdle milk for cheese production through separating the whey from casein1. Pressure from animal rights activists and an increase in the price of rennet resulted in the development of non-animal rennet. Since the 1990s, precision fermentation technology has been used by 90 per cent of all global cheesemakers2.

By using precision fermentation, we can essentially design milk however we want. This means we can do it without the lactose, which is great news for those who suffer from lactose intolerance, but who still want the benefits of dairy.

“The protein component of milk is what makes it exceptionally special,” adds Dr Raynes. “Once you’ve got that, you can replace the lipids and fats.

“For now we’ll use plant-based fats to develop the milk’s creaminess, but ongoing developments in precision fermentation suggest that we could one day see the exact replica of cow fat too.

All G Foods is going to make the dairy of the future

Imagine in the not-too-distant future, you’re drinking animal-free milk that is kinder to the environment and tastes and acts just like traditional milk. Life is all good.

Precision fermentation could see the dream of a sustainable and animal-free dairy soon become a reality. Precision fermentation is quickly gaining a reputation as the food industry’s next pillar for the production of alternative proteins and was reported by the Good Food Institute to have attracted US$435 million in investment capital in 2020 alone.

At All G Foods we are creating a positive food movement by designing a more sustainable food future, a future that is all good. Protein is what we’re all about and we are here to fill the growing gap between supply and demand, as greater pressure is put on food manufacturers to drive more sustainable solutions.

All G Foods has grand ambitions to be the first Australian company to crack the global scientific challenge of assembling a casein micelle at scale and replicating the delicious but difficult protein structure of traditional milk—the milk that is consumed by billions of people all around the world. Dr Raynes has already re-assembled casein micelles using casein proteins produced by precision fermentation at lab-scale, a feat that we believe was a world first and that Dr Raynes presented at a Sydney based conference in 2018.

Having just closed a $16m seed raise and opened up a state-of-the-art BioFoundry in their Food Innovation Center in Waterloo, Sydney, we are well on our way.

All G Foods has an unparalleled team of global scientists and partners who are helping us to build and test new biotechnologies that will one day be offered to consumers in brands such as MilkCell™, available from supermarkets and in products around the world.

Meet the global team