TurtleTree Co-Founder Fengru Lin On How Cell-Based Milk Can Help Tackle Climate Change
The alternative protein industry, which includes cell-based and plant-based solutions, has grown significantly over the last few years, spurring a movement to change the way we eat.
The products may be different, but the collective goal of these startups is to disrupt our unsustainable food systems by reducing global meat consumption, offsetting it with other protein-rich solutions.
Gen.T honouree Fengru Lin’s search for high-quality milk, to satisfy her passion for making cheese, helped her realise the ugly realities of cattle farming. After years in the tech world, including stints at Salesforce and Google, the Singaporean teamed up with American entrepreneur Max Rye and focused their energies on exploring cell-based technology for food production.
In 2019, the duo founded TurtleTree, one of the world’s first companies to use a cell-based method to create milk and milk components for dairy milk and infant nutrition. They subsequently filed their patents and scaled the biotech startup, basing operations out of both Singapore and San Francisco. Currently, TurtleTree has 22 full-time scientists and engineers working across six different teams.
“The threat of climate change and the ongoing pandemic have exacerbated the issue of food security," says Lin. "The world is looking for different sources of food production and alternative proteins is one of the answers. We need to work closely with consumers to understand their sensitivities while educating them on the technologies behind these innovations.”
One of the benefits of cell-based milk is that production consumes less resources than conventional dairy farming. “Cellular agriculture protein creates 78 percent to 96 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, [and uses] 82 percent to 96 percent less water and 99 percent less land compared to its traditional counterparts," says Lin. "In addition, cellular technology has enabled access to bioactive components, including proteins and complex sugars found in human milk that have previously been inaccessible.
"Some of these proteins in human milk have been proven to help with immunity, gut health and brain development," she adds. “Theoretically, we should be able to over-express and under-express certain genes to remove or increase the concentration of certain components in milk, including lactose.”
The world is looking for different sources of food production and alternative proteins is one of the answers
— Fengru Lin
Today, there are constant reminders that the traditional method of milk production is bad for the planet. “Cattle are estimated to produce 11 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, with 72 percent of the emissions occurring in processes prior to the milk leaving the farm," says Lin. "Livestock produces 37 percent of global methane emissions, which is 25 times more effective at trapping radiation as CO2. And as demand for dairy products increases with the rising global population, novel strategies for milk production are more important than ever.”
TurtleTree plans to work with global conglomerates to market its products. It has also started collaborating with universities such as the Nanyang Technological University to understand consumer perception about cell-based products. The results of these studies will form an integral part of its marketing strategy.
In 2021, the company aims to send out samples of its bioactive components to potential customers in the dairy and infant nutrition industry. It also hopes to clinch its first commercial deals. Lin adds that TurtleTree’s goal is to be the gold standard for sustainable food technology when it comes to milk production.
See more of Gen.T's coverage on alternative protein.