Will tomorrow’s milk come from a laboratory?

Green Innovation 14. sep 2021 1 min Senior Scientist and Adjunct Professor Stig Purup Written by Sabina Askholm Larsen

We may be able to drink a glass of milk in the future without it originating from the udder of a grass-fed dairy cow – but comes instead from laboratory-cultured mammary cells from a cow. How will this affect the climate if a sustainable alternative reduces our dependence on milk production from dairy cows? And are consumers ready to consume this new type of milk? A new episode of the Forskningsfortællinger podcast (in Danish) examines these issues more closely.

Meat is frequently in focus when we discuss making our diet more climate-friendly, but our milk consumption also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Stig Purup, Senior Scientist at the Department of Animal Science of Aarhus University will therefore investigate the possibility of developing a sustainable alternative to traditional milk production.

In the project "What Do We Drink in 2030? In-vitro Milk Based on Cultured Cells", he and colleagues will generate the basic knowledge on how to produce milk using laboratory-cultured mammary cells from a cow.

“The goal is to develop a new biotechnology 3D biosynthesis platform enabling cow-free milk to be produced. We will develop a robust biotechnological platform with mammary cells we can use in the future as a basis for more climate-friendly milk production. We hope that we can provide the scientific basis and expertise required to further develop and produce a future industrial scale-up technology,” explains Stig Purup.

Cow-free milk can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions

Although completely eliminating milk produced by cows is hardly realistic, an alternative production method may still help to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from milk production considerably.

“Dairy cows account for 75% of Denmark’s agricultural emissions of methane – a greenhouse gas that has a fairly powerful warming effect. We have 1.5 million cattle in Denmark, and about 550,000 are dairy cows. So if we can manage to produce some of the milk from cows without using these animals, this may pave the way to achieving climate targets,” says Stig Purup.

According to Michael Minter, Programme Manager for Future Food at Concito – Denmark’s Green Think Tank, we are facing the fundamental challenge of producing enough food for a growing world population and using less land. In this respect, large-scale animal production is problematic because it requires a relatively large land area.

Alternative production methods such as the one represented by Stig Purup’s research are therefore interesting for Concito to monitor.

“This is a really good example of what we need: finding suitable alternatives to traditional animal products, because the demand for them seems to be increasing. The ambition may be that that everyone will switch to a much more plant-based diet and eat more vegetables and legumes, but the demand for animal products will still be great. In this respect, it is really important and interesting to strive to discover new alternatives, and this sustainable milk project is an excellent example,” says Michael Minter.

In the Forskningsfortællinger podcast (in Danish), you can hear more about how alternative milk production will actually work and what Denmark’s food production will look like in 30 years.

Podcast guests:

  • Stig Purup, Senior Researcher, Department of Animal Science, Aarhus University
  • Michael Minter, Programme Manager for Future Food, Concito – Denmark’s Green Think Tank

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a grant of DKK 2,988,000 to Stig Purup for the project "What Do We Drink in 2030? In-vitro Milk Based on Cultured Cells".

Stig Purup's research includes investigation of bioactive components in food and feedstuff and their importance for the nutritional and health benefic...

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