They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks? At California Performance we'd like to disagree.
The old dog? Microflora.
The new trick? Real milk protein without any animal impact.
The team at Perfect Day use fermentation, sugar and science to get our microflora to produce some of the best milk proteins in the world.
If you're wondering how they get the microflora to make whey, keep reading as we dive deeper. We'll let you in on a secret... No cows were used in the process.
We're all made up of DNA; you, me, every living thing on earth. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a chemical made up of two long molecules, arranged in a spiral, you may know this as the double-helix structure.
So what does DNA do? It carries all of the genetic information. It has all the instructions that a living organism needs to grow, reproduce and function.
A DNA molecule looks like a twisted ladder. The 'steps' on the ladder are made up of chemical pairs — cytosine, guanine, adenosine, and thymine. The chemicals will only bind in specific combinations: C-G and G-C, A-T and T-A.
The outside of the DNA ladder is phosphates and sugars. When combined, these molecules are called nucleotides. The nucleotides Nucleotides stack up along the helix and are arranged in three-letter sets called codons, each a formula for making a single amino acid.
Amino acids are very important in our diet. They are the building blocks of proteins, which serve so many different functions. A bunch of codons together is a gene, what we like to call a set of instructions that tell a cell how to build a protein.
We like to talk about a 'genetic code' — this is exact sequence of base pairs, that form the codons that comprise genes, which then instruct a cell to build proteins.
Imagine that DNA is a written language. It has just four letters (bases), arranged into three-letter words (codons), but the words can be combined in nearly infinite order to make instructional sentences (genes). (See figure below.)
Translating the Story of Cow
The confusion tends to come when we say that our whey protein is REAL dairy but we didn't use a cow. We completely get why it's difficult to wrap your head around.
Scientists who worked on the Bovine Genome Project had already translated the story of a cow when we started our animal-free journey.1 So Perfect Day just used their data!
Let us explain.
A genome sequence is pretty much an organisms DNA story, written in a way someone with expertise would understand it. It's an explanation of what order the codons and genes appear in. The cow's genome was already available and free to use.
The first cow to have her genome sequenced was named L1 Dominette 01449, and she lived in Montana.2
Unfortunately, we don’t know how long Dominette was alive for but she was eight years old in 2009 when her genome was published. Scientists took a harmless blood sample from Dominette in order to decode and record her genomic story.3
The results were incredible. Scientists decoded 22,000 genes from Dominette’s blood. All of those genes gave Perfect Day exactly what they needed to make whey protein. Thanks Dominette!
Every one of Domiette's genes encodes one protein. Perfect Day found the gene we needed for whey protein and started to research the sequence of amino acids. This told them which order they would need to assemble the C, G, A, and T chemicals in. All of this happened without a single interaction with a cow.
They found all the information they needed from lots of free databases, you could even have a look if you wanted! UniProt has an entry for beta-lactoglobulin, the whey protein we use at California Performance, available here. It's probably not going to make much sense unless you're a molecular biologist but we thought we'd share it anyway! We think it's very cool!
Teaching the Flora
DNA is the one true universal language — meaning organisms will recognize DNA no matter its origin.
The start of the journey to teach the flora begins with gathering the data from UniProt. Perfect Day then make a "copy" of the information specifically relating to whey protein and pair it with the microflora, into the genome. They've basically created a whey step-by-step and given it to the microflora. As the microflora is so good at following instructions, it quickly incorporates the DNA into its own genome.
Microflora are quite open to taking on foreign DNA. In the wild, when repairing breaks in their own DNA, the microflora may accidentally incorporate foreign DNA from their environment. The team studied the conditions that this occurs and have been able to use it to their advantage — making a particular genetic trade happen intentionally.
The Perfect Day scientists will mix the newly made whey genes with hundreds of millions of microflora cells. Only a few of those cells will accidentally incorporate the whey-making gene as one of their own.
The process of adopting the foreign DNA as its own is called homologous recombination. When the microflora has breaks in its own DNA, it looks for codons that will fit into those breaks. When a suitable codon (the new whey making gene) presents itself, the microflora will fill that break with it. Once this process has happened, the new gene is permanently incorporated into that flora’s genome.
They then isolate the cells that have successful repaired their own DNA with the new whey-making gene. They are then ready to grow and reproduce. The microflora is then used in a process called fermentation, which you can learn more about here. Now the microflora will convert sugars into whey, perfect!
The science is not limited to the food industry, it is also used for medicine, beauty and more recently, fashion, to increase sustainability. Strain engineers are experts in advanced biology, chemistry, and genetics, and they are able to do incredible things with all kinds of microflora to find ways of making many different things that are useful to humans.
The medicine industry is well known for using strain engineering to create drugs such as Insulin and the beauty industry have often used it for animal-free collagen proteins for skincare products. While the fashion industry is fairly new to strain engineering, some companies have been teaching microflora to make new materials, such as spider-free spider silk that can be woven into fabric, and leather made from fungi instead of cowhide.
Industries are making changes to the way they do things, becoming more sustainable is no longer a choice, but a necessity. The changes we make today will have a large impact on a greater tomorrow.
For us, microflora is the future. It is sustainable, animal-friendly and keeps the high quality of the product it is creating. The process is new, the food is exactly what you've always known.
We're not trying to replace Mother Nature, rather than work in harmony with her to create a better, more humane world.
Don't just take our word for it, try it yourself! We think it's quite impressive.
Shop all flavors of V-Whey protein here.
1. Human Genome Sequencing Center. (2016, March 4). Bovine genome project. Baylor College of Medicine. hgsc.bcm.edu/other-mammals/bovine-genome project
2. Hamilton, Jon. (2009, April 23). Cow achieves fame through her DNA. All Things Considered. NPR. npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103382511
3. Zimin, Aleksey V. et al. (2009). A whole-genome assembly of the domestic cow, Bos taurus. Genome Biology 10, R42. doi.org/10.1186/gb-2009-10-4-r42