August 27, 2020

PT 4: Gold rush in the Milklab

Now, unlike open range, where cows are mostly left unattended until it is time to be rounded up, our milk robot is still in need of constant care. Once she’s had a calf, a cow may produce milk without putting too much thought into it, but life in the MilkLab is different.

In order to get the milk robot to work, the cowboys need to unravel the mystery of casein micelles – the spherical structures much needed for making cheese. All bovine caseins have been broken down to their smallest components, and now the process of putting them together and looking at micelle formation begins. Our posse have their plan laid out and take position behind their microscopes. And then they wait.

Yes, this can be sheer drudgery, but it also bears resemblance with the gold rushes of the past. You couldn’t just throw your pan in the river bed and expect gold to magically deposit itself in there. You needed to wash the ore endlessly and wait for the gold among the mud and gravel to settle on the bottom of your pan. But once it had, you could be pretty damn sure there would be plenty more where that came from. Casein micelles also have the tendency to settle, since they don’t dissolve in water easily, or at all for that matter. And that is what our cowboys are waiting for.

The view underneath the microscopes is like an endless prairie, not a tree within spitting distance. The cowboys will ride for days before encountering something, if anything. But they keep riding, with their hats pulled low, squinting their eyes and scanning the horizon, only resting when… Wait, one of the cowboys jumps up, takes out her gun and shoots a few blanks – it is, after all, still a lab. She sits back down, looks again, but it’s there all right. Drifting into the optical path of her microscope, a first casein makes its appearance. Yee-haw!

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