Yeast-derived “animal products” may soon be part of an environmentally balanced diet.
In 2008, the biotech industry had fallen on tough times: capital was drying up and businesses were struggling to survive. That’s when Ryan Bethencourt saw an opportunity. A biologist with an entrepreneurial streak, he and a couple of friends started buying equipment from bankrupt companies and setting up their own small labs. By 2013, he had co-founded Counter Culture Labs, a “biohacker” space in Oakland, California. There, DIY-biology enthusiasts are now working on, among other projects, making real cheese in a way that bypasses the cow.
Bethencourt is part of a growing group of scientists, entrepreneurs, and lab tinkerers who are forging a bold new food future—one without animals. But they’re not asking everyone to give up meat and dairy. Thanks to advances in synthetic biology, they’re developing ways to produce actual animal products—meat, milk, egg whites, collagen—in the lab. And in doing so, they are shrinking the carbon footprint and slashing the land and water requirements of these goods with the goal of meeting the world’s growing protein needs more sustainably.