SP.20.001 – Animal-free milk proteins

Route: Sustainable production of safe and healthy food

Cluster question: 015 How can we make agricultural production systems more sustainable as the worldwide demand for healthy, safe food continues to grow?

Milk is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. Unfortunately, dairy production has a large impact on the environment. Among different foods, cheese has one of the highest carbon footprints. Concerns about sustainability and animal-welfare of traditional milk production are two important motivations for an increasing percentage of consumers to turn to plant-based milk substitutes. Currently, none of these plant-based milk substitutes such as those based on soy, almond and coconut have a nutritional quality or technological functionality comparable with cow’s milk. This is because these plant-based substitutes do not contain the same supramolecular protein structures as in cow’s milk, which are mainly the casein micelles. Casein micelles are unique protein structures in animal milk, consisting of thousands of individual caseins and calcium salts. These micelles are essential in dairy product structure formation, such as gelation of cheese and yogurt. Their protein quality, which is defined as the digestibility and quantity of essential amino acids in correct ratios for human consumption, can’t be replicated in plant-based substitutes.
We want to tackle these challenges by yeast expression of casein proteins that are identical in amino acid composition, modifications (e.g. glycosylation) to those present in cow’s milk and subsequent reconstitution of the same micellar structure. We will compare the nutritional and technological functionality of these animal-free proteins to cow’s milk proteins to determine if we can produce an animal-free alternative for cow’s milk. To determine if animal-free milk is a sustainable alternative for animal milk, sustainability calculations will be performed on the carbon footprint and a life cycle assessment will be made. In addition, we will explore how animal-free milk can become a socially responsible innovation, by exploring if and how this development might offer opportunities for farmers and if and how its GM character could be acceptable.


casein micelles, protein quality, socially responsible innovation, sustainability, vegan dairy products, yeast

Other organisations

Australian Government), CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, dairy products and plant-based products, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), HAS University of Applied Sciences, Stuurgroep LIB and companies with expertise on biotechnology, Wageningen Universities and Research (WUR)


Organisation Wageningen University, Food Quality and Design chair group (WUR)
Name Dr.ir. E. (Etske) Bijl
E-mail etske.bijl@wur.nl
Website https://www.wur.nl/nl/Personen/Etske-dr.ir.-E-Etske-Bijl.htm