The Singapore-based company TurtleTree Labs is the first company to make cell-based milk.
Founded in 2019, TurtleTree Labs has since received international recognition for its innovation. In 2020 the company won the Entrepreneurship World Cup, where it competed against 175,000 other entrepreneurs from 200 countries and won US$500,000.
To make its milk, TurtleTree Labs is using a method to produce milk and milk components in a lab without cows or other mammals. The process starts by collecting and multiplying cells, some of which are naturally found in milk. Researchers then induce lactation, causing the cells to turn the liquid around them into milk. They report that the result is milk with a very similar composition, look, and taste to dairy milk.
“Using the cell-based approach can allow us to create complete milk as we are mimicking the environment that is present inside the living mammals,” Fengru Lin, CEO and founder of TurtleTree Labs, tells Food Tank.
According to the company, plant-based milk alternatives like soy, oat, almond, cashew, coconut, and rice milk have different compositions than dairy milk. As a result, this limits their ability to create dairy products such as butter, cheese, and yogurt. “Using our technology, we are able to produce quality milk from all mammals that retain its similar composition and functionality,” Lin says.
TurtleTree Labs also predicts that cell-based milk can help alleviate some of the major drawbacks of the dairy industry, including greenhouse gas emissions and animal cruelty. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, dairy cattle in the United States emitted the equivalent of 43.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, which was 0.6 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. that year.
However, cell-based animal products also have its critics. According to a recent study from Frontiers in Nutrition, cell-based foods raise concerns about cell multiplication regulation in labs, the nutritional composition of lab-produced foods, and the moral and ethical implications for eaters. Some researchers feel that this new technology still needs further research to ensure safety and optimize methods of production.
But Turtle Tree Labs hopes that cell-based milk can offer a sustainable solution to meet dairy demands.
“Our north star is to one day build a solution that requires accessible inputs of freshwater, cell food, and electricity to produce sustainable nutrition from milk,” Lin tells Food Tank. In the future, the company hopes to be a partner within the global dairy industry to provide healthy, sustainable, cell-based foods to the world’s growing population.