My girlfriend Eleonore is a biologist, to be more precise she is a mammalogist. Mammalogy is the scientific study of mammals. Her specialization is the evolution of mammary glands, so if you want to know who female humans has breasts, you should ask my girlfriend.
Eleonore spends many hours in her lab, and quite often she comes home late. That means that I have to cook most days. Now I have to admit that I am a better cook than she, so that is not really a big deal. Though I do not mind cooking, dining alone is what bothers me.
I was quite happy when some day Eleonore came home early. So happy that I kissed her and made her favorite dish. While we were eating, she said:
“It’s delicious, darling.” “You’re welcome, my sweetheart.” With my leg I touched hers. Subsequently she started to tell about her work.
“My colleagues and I have succeeded to culture milk cells in the lab.” “That’s nice,” I said. “You are going to make mammary glands in the lab?” “Yes, we are,” my girlfriend said.
This message did not really surprise me, you know scientists are now growing all types of tissue in the lab and it would be only a matter of time before fully functional organs would be produced in laboratories around the world. But what she said next, shocked me.
“It’s our intention to grow mammary glands in the lab and to use them to produce milk.” “In order to to study the production of milk?” “No, for consumption.” “Consumption?”
Eleonore looked at me as if I was a complete idiot. Nevertheless she started to explain her research to me.
“Look darling, around the world there are scientists working at similar projects. You know about in vitro meat.” I nodded.
“That’s culturing muscle tissue in the lab, for consumption. And others are working to culture skin tissue in order to produce leather products. All these initiatives are aimed at reducing the number of animals involved in production of consumption goods.”
“Sweetheart, I see were you are going. You wants to replace milk cows.” Eleonore smiled and said:
“Exactly. Like meat dairy is a luxury good. If people are becoming more affluent, they’ll consume more meat, but also more dairy products. With current production models we cannot produce enough milk to meet increasing demand.
“It does not really matter whether you keep cattle for milk or for meat. In both cases you need to feed the cows and they are quite inefficient. If you only switch to tissue for meat production, you still need a large number of cattle for milk production.
“A couple of months ago I realized that we could culture mammary gland tissue in the lab as well. With some students I started this project.”
I noticed that my girlfriend was very enthusiastic about her research. Though I agreed with her on many points, I was still a bit skeptical about the idea.
“But aren’t there plant-based alternatives for dairy products. You know vegans soy milk to replace cow milk and so.” “Yes, there are. And to some extent we should use more plant-based alternatives. But still many people will prefer animal milk and as long as that’s the case animal milk will be consumed.”
“What type of mammary tissue did you used for your experiment?” I asked. “Bovine, of course,” she said. “What else do you think?” I did not answer that question, as I thought it was rhetorical.
A month later I received, while I was at my office, a text message from Eleonore. It stated that she and her coworkers had succeeded to produce a tiny amount of milk in their lab. I sent a text message back, to congratulate her with this achievement.
Shortly thereafter he got another message from her, in which she invited me to get a tour in her lab. Eleonore wanted to show me her experiment in person. I replied that I could come after work, which was fine to her.
So when I was finished at my work, I drove to Eleonore’s workplace. She was waiting for me at the parking lot.
“Come, follow me,” my girlfriend said. Silently we walked to her lab. There I saw a couple of bioreactors.
“The mammary glands are inside. These tubes are supplying the growth medium and those are removing the waste products. And here is the excreted milk collected.” Eleonore was more than proud on her invention.
And to be honest I could easily imagine a whole factory filled with milk producing bioreactors.
“What do you think?” my girlfriend asked. “This could work, how many milk do you produce?” “At this moment we can’t compete with a cow, we need to do more research to improve the production rate. But we need investors.”
At that moment I realized why Eleonore wanted to show me the machine, if you could call it a machine. It was my day job to find investors for all kind of enterprises.
“I will do what I can to find investors for you,” I said and she smiled. “That would be nice, sweetheart.”