Multiple milk proteins grown in a single plant? NewMoo makes liquid casein for animal-free cheese

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Israeli start-up NewMoo is expressing dairy proteins in soy plants. Image credit: NewMoo
Israeli start-up NewMoo is expressing dairy proteins in soy plants. Image credit: NewMoo

Related tags molecular farming Casein Dairy alternatives

Another newcomer is joining the molecular farming ranks, but this one is producing multiple dairy proteins – in the form of liquid casein – from a single plant.

After three years in stealth mode, ‘it’s the right time’ for NewMoo to emerge, says co-founder and CEO Daphna Miller.

The start-up is joining a growing number of innovators expressing animal proteins in plants, but unlike most fermentation and plant molecular farming start-ups, NewMoo is not developing a protein or casein powder.

Instead, it’s producing a liquid casein base that Miller claims mimics the functionality of milk in cheese production. “Our goal is to develop a product for dairy producers…

“To this end, we are developing all four caseins necessary for traditional cheese making.”

Casein: the ‘holy grail’ of milk structure

Molecular farming allows for the production of foreign proteins in plants. Having been used by the pharmaceutical sector since the 1980s, the technology is responsible for the development of some vaccines, antibodies and medicinal proteins.

More and more, however, molecular farming is being used in the world of food. Some innovators are expressing pork proteins in plants​, others are producing egg proteins in potatoes​. NewMoo, as the name suggests, is focusing on dairy.

Of all the dairy alternatives, cheese is considered the most in need of innovation. Products to date have struggled to offer consumer the ‘real cheese experience’, nutrition, and price, believes the start-up. “Cheese analogues do not contain the key dairy proteins – caseins – necessary to precisely recreate the sensory properties of dairy cheese.”

Given that caseins comprise about 80% of the proteins in dairy milk, they’re considered the ‘holy grail’ of milk structure by the dairy industry. The start-up believes that by developing animal-free caseins through plants instead of cows, it is possible to make almost any dairy product, starting with cheese.

NewMoo Cow Pizza delivery
Of all the dairy alternatives, cheese is considered the most in need of innovation. Image credit: NewMoo

“Our animal-free liquid casein mimics all the functional traits of real milk protein for crafting cheese the traditional way,” says CEO Miller. “This means it can seamlessly replace dairy milk in any dairy cheese manufacturing facility without the need for any special equipment or reconfiguration of existing equipment.”

Why NewMoo grows in soy on open fields

Using molecular farming technology, proteins can be expressed in a range of plants. These include lettuce​, potatoes​, and soy​. The latter is NewMoo’s current plant of choice.

“We researched many plant options but came to the understanding that for our targeted end result, soy plants are the best host to start with,” Miller told this publication.

“There are many reasons for this: the vast knowledge around soy, research and regulation, its price, the yield, the quantity of protein and even the know-how of the soymilk industry.

“It was the optimum choice for us to use soy’s benefits and express the caseins with the seeds of the soy plant.”

As to the growing process, there appears to be two main environments for expressing animal proteins in plants: indoor and outdoor. NewMoo is less interested in an indoor, greenhouse setting.

“Our approach is to grow our plants through open fields,” revealed the CEO. “Greenhouses are a great solution for specific crops, but not always cost effective.”

Given the slim profit margins associated with dairy production, the start-up is keen to go with the most cost-effective option. Further, by utilising existing fields, NewMoo hopes farmers will benefit financially from continuing to grow crops they’re familiar with.

“The planet also wins: less carbon, less energy, and animal-free products.”

NewMoo produces multiple dairy proteins in a single plant

NewMoo’s technology is founded on research and intellectual property from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, which allows for two or more milk proteins to be expressed in a single plant.

To achieve this, the NewMoo team has integrated molecular technologies from various fields of genetic engineering into one unique method. “This approach incorporates novel cloning tools that allow us to introduce multiple proteins – specifically caseins – and their regulatory mechanisms into a single plant, targeting expression in the plant’s seeds.”

Daphna Miller NewMoo CEO Photograph by Tal Shahar
NewMoo co-founder and CEO Daphna Miller told us 'it's the right time' to emerge from stealth mode. Image credit: Tal Shahar

The final product, ‘NewMoo Liquid Casein Base’, is designed to be more cost-effective than producing a protein or casein powder, since the start-up avoids the ‘complex and expensive’ processes of separating and purifying the caseins.

“Additionally, it helps us minimise time and capital expenditure for new food development for dairy producers by ensuring our product seamlessly integrates into their existing factories and processes.”

What are NewMoo’s next steps?

Like all novel foods, NewMoo’s process and product will be subject to pre-market approval.

But the future looks bright in this sense; a molecular farming start-up – Moolec Science​ – recently received US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval for plant-grown animal proteins for the first time.

Whether a product and process is genetically modified can play a not-insignificant role in the regulatory process. NewMoo’s process involves genetic modification, but the final product will not be classified GMO, we were told.

“Our technology employs genetic engineering to enable plants to express caseins, making the plants genetically modified. However, our final product, the NewMoo Liquid Casein Base, is free from DNA residues.

“That means that according to regulatory standards, it does not need to be labelled as a GMO.”

As to NewMoo’s next steps, emerging from stealth is a big one. “We preferred to be in stealth for the first few years while we were hitting our R&D milestones,” revealed Miller.

“Now as we grow our team, expand our research, and intend to collaborate with partners, we feel it’s the right time."

Related topics R&D

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