Animal-free milk proteins

This program aims to produce milk proteins without cows. Instead, we will use yeast to create a sustainable and animal-free protein alternative with the same nutritional value and structure as in milk. We will also study how this novel protein source can be embedded in society in a responsible way.

Milk from cows is an essential source of proteins in the Western diet. The major protein fraction in this milk consists of caseins that are assembled into supramolecular protein structures, named casein micelles. These protein clusters are unique to animal milk and are essential to obtain the structure of dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Unfortunately, dairy production has a large impact on the environment. Concerns on sustainability and animal-welfare are two important motivations for consumers to replace animal-based proteins by plant-based protein sources such as soy, almond and coconut.

Currently, none of these substitutes have a nutritional quality or physical functionality comparable with cow’s milk, because they do not contain a similar amino acid composition or protein structures. The major scientific breakthrough and societal impact we want to achieve in this program is to produce a sustainable alternative for milk proteins using a new animal-free yeast-based source and assemble these individual yeast-based caseins into casein micelles so that they can be used to make dairy products with a similar nutritional and physical functionality as cow’s milk. In order to achieve this we will:

  • develop a yeast-based casein production system,
  • develop a controlled co-assembly strategy for casein micelles,
  • compare societal, nutritional and environmental aspects of animal and animal-free milk proteins in order to facilitate the potential protein transition.

Our consortium consists of academic experts in the field of molecular biology, chemistry, physics, social science and sustainability and societal partners with expertise on biotechnology, food and nutrition. Using our additive expertise, we will create animal-free milk proteins and casein micelles as a unique new source for animal-free dairy products. Our yeast-based dairy protein production technology can evolve into a sustainable production platform, flexibly geared towards application in a variety of landscapes and societies.

Current output of the project can be found on the NWO project page.

This publication is part of the 'Animal-free milk proteins' project (with project number NWA.1292.19.302) of the NWA research programme 'Research along Routes by Consortia (ORC)', which is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

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