Today I thought I’d go just a little off topic. Lots of people out there are really upset about the idea of putting genes into plants, like putting genes for Round-Up resistance into soybeans, or genes for caterpillar resistance into corn. And, I do agree, this is a pretty powerful technology that needs to be used carefully – probably more carefully than it’s being used right now with plants.
But the funny thing is, one of the places where transgenic creatures really dominate the market is in a place that is almost never considered. Today 80-90% of cheese made in the United States is produced using bacteria genetically engineered to produce rennin. What is rennin you ask? Renin is the stuff normally found in a cow’s stomach which causes milk to curdle – and cheese to be created. For those of you interested in looking into this further look up rennet which is the substance in a cow’s stomach which naturally contains rennin.
After looking around a bit I really can’t find that many people upset about the use of genetically engineered microbes to produce rennin. Actually, some people who are quite sensitive to environmental concerns may prefer it. Historically rennin comes from dead young cows – it’s a byproduct of veal production (kind of a nasty industry if you ask me). Rennin that comes from genetically altered bacteria has nothing to do with dead cows and so vegetarians often find cheese produced with genetically engineered rennin to be more appropriate.