Lab-made breast milk could ‘spell trouble’ for $45-billion infant formula industry

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It won’t be easy to cell-culture breast milk in the lab. But early results are promising enough to spell trouble for the $45-billion dollar infant formula industry.

When Leila Strickland was a new mom, she struggled to breastfeed her son, who was born prematurely. He wouldn’t latch properly, and her body wasn’t producing enough milk …. Strickland, who has a PhD in cell biology, wondered if something other than infant formula could help in these moments. She started growing the cells that orchestrate the production of breast milk, human mammary epithelial cells, in a small lab in North Carolina to see if she could get human breast milk to appear without a breast.

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By September 2019, she had co-founded the company Biomilq with Michelle Eggers, a food scientist who formerly worked for General Mills. A few months later, an experiment showed their cell-cultured product contained at least lactose and casein, two key components of breast milk. While their product will need to hit a number of other nutritional benchmarks to be commercially viable, Strickland and Eggers take this development as a sign they’re on the right track.

Biomilq’s efforts fit squarely within the same paradigm of companies trying to grow animal protein without raising and killing livestock—a field known collectively as cellular agriculture.

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