September 28, 2020

PT 5: Search for the Silver Spore

Now, breaking down grass and turning it into dairy proteins may be a trick that mother nature herself figured out eons ago, but for us humans it’s proven mighty difficult to replicate. We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that we keep a patch of land and some cattle, and that the milk simply keeps flowing. Problem is, that patch of land kept growing until it wasn’t a patch no more. Instead of a few cows that get lots of personal care and attention in exchange for their milk, we got them cooped up like battery hens and hooked up to machines to meet the ever-increasing demand for dairy. ‘Course, there’s plenty farmers who take good care of their animals and who take pride in their treatment, but those are becoming scarcer by the year. And it ain’t just the cows who’re suffering, neither. The pressure that the dairy industry exerts on our land, our water supply, and our biodiversity has been rising.

Those Vegan Cowboys think it’s high time to look toward the future, and to look for a better way. Well, the molecular miracle that goes on inside those cows is something we’ve taken for granted for a long time, a fact that’s becoming all the more obvious as our efforts in the lab continue. The trick is to find the right strain of fungus; one that eats grass and produces so-called caseins through a process of fermentation. These caseins are essential building blocks of dairy, and producing them in bulk is the key to creating a dairy industry that’s not dependent on the use of live animals. Using their own set of fungal strains, our hard working folks in the lab have caught a rare glimpse of these caseins, like grains of gold in the digger’s pan. This is a sure sign that we’re on the right track, but history rarely remembers those who’ve spent their years just to walk away with a pouch of gold dust in the end. No, we have our sights set on the motherlode, and to that end we need a very specific fungus to guide our way.

We came to calling this fungus the Silver Spore, a stable strain of microbial magic that can efficiently create the caseins we need to change the world of dairy. All the gold and gemstones in the Appalachian mountains put together ain’t worth half as much to us as this spore, so we’ve placed a mighty high bounty on its discovery: two and a half million euros to those who point us to the strain we so sorely need. Reporters and papers quickly took up the message, and boy did word spread fast. Across plains and seas alike, people caught wind of this noble search and all over the world microbiologists have been straining their minds to think of ways in which they could aid us in our quest. It might come from Russia, it might be from China, from a humble lab in Illinois or even on soil much closer to home, but find it we will. And when we do, our road to cheese Eldorado will be laid out in front of us, as plain as a nugget of gold in a handful of mud.

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