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Artificial breast milk start-up gets $3.5 million from Bill Gates-founded investment fund

An artificial breast milk start-up that offers a green alternative to baby formula has received $3.5 (£2.8) million from an investment fund co-founded by Bill Gates.

It has been estimated that around 10 per cent of the global dairy industry — a major producer of greenhouse gases — is used to manufacture baby formula.

However, US firm BIOMILQ is working to artificially produce human breast milk —from cultured human mammary epithelial cells — on a commercially viable scale.

The $1 billion (£800 million) fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, was established to help prevent the worst effects of climate change arising from carbon emissions.

Alongside Mr Gates, the group’s other members include Amazon CEO Jeff Besos, Virgin group founder Sir Richard Branson and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.

An artificial breast milk start-up that offers a green alternative to baby formula has received $3.5 (£2.8) million from an investment fund co-founded by Bill Gates (stock image)

An artificial breast milk start-up that offers a green alternative to baby formula has received $3.5 (£2.8) million from an investment fund co-founded by Bill Gates (stock image)

THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF FORMULA 

According to researchers at Imperial College London, advice on breast feeding often overlooks the environmental benefit of breast milk over that of formula.

They called breast feeding an ‘environmental imperative’ — as it uses few resources and creates little waste. 

In contrast, they noted that conventional alternatives harm the planet at every stage of production — from the cattle that produce the milk to the disposal of cans and packaging.

In fact, a previous study estimated that 550 million infant formula cans are sent to landfill each year. Advertisement

In February, BIOMILQ showed a proof of concept for their artificial breast milk — demonstrating that they are able to produce both casein and lactose, proteins that are key components of real human breast milk.

‘We are the first company to produce vital components of milk together within the same system using a process that is sterile from start to finish and free of all contamination,’ the firm said.

‘Most importantly, this innovation allows us to create the full constellation of complex components in perfect proportion.’

Alongside helping to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the production of baby formula, the firm’s product may provide a healthier alternative for some babies.

Formula — which is typically based on either cow’s milk or soy, rather than human proteins — can be hard for some children to digest, an issue which BIOMILQ’s alternative product should not have.

‘We believe parents, caregivers, and infants deserve more options in early-stage nutrition,’ BIOMILQ co-founder and cell biologist Leila Strickland said.

‘We’re determined to give them just that and to create a better world for future generations.’ 

Dr Strickland was inspired to develop a better replacement for baby formula after her own struggles breastfeeding her son, she told Business Insider.

‘Exclusive breastfeeding is unrealistic for many and impossible for some,’ Dr Strickland and BIOMILQ co-founder and food scientist Michelle Egger said.

‘In fact, 84 percent of moms transition to dairy-based infant formula before the recommended six month exclusivity period,’ they added. 

‘Whether it’s low milk production, incompatible workplaces, or the ongoing stigma around breastfeeding in public, families feed infant formula out of necessity rather than preference.’

‘Parents and caregivers are left with sub-optimal choices, and they want an option that doesn’t force a trade-off between babies’ nutrition and mothers’ wellbeing.’

Breakthrough Energy Ventures — was established to help prevent the worst effects of climate change arising from carbon emissions. Alongside Mr Gates, the group's other members include Amazon CEO Jeff Besos, Virgin's Sir Richard Branson and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg

Breakthrough Energy Ventures — was established to help prevent the worst effects of climate change arising from carbon emissions. Alongside Mr Gates, the group’s other members include Amazon CEO Jeff Besos, Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

In February, BIOMILQ showed a proof of concept for their artificial breast milk — demonstrating that they are able to produce both casein and lactose, key proteins of real human breast milk. Pictured, BIOMILQ founders Michelle Egger and Leila Strickland

 In February, BIOMILQ showed a proof of concept for their artificial breast milk — demonstrating that they are able to produce both casein and lactose, key proteins of real human breast milk. Pictured, BIOMILQ founders Michelle Egger and Leila Strickland

‘There are immense opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock used in the production of foods like dairy,’ said Breakthrough Energy Ventures member Carmichael Roberts.

‘BIOMILQ offers a superb dairy alternative for the production of infant nutrition.’

‘The company has created a first-of-its-kind product that not only offers a better solution for the environment, but will also improve nutrition for infants around the globe,’ he added. 

It is unclear when BIOMILQ’s formula replacement might become commercially available, however — with Ms Egger telling Business Insider than such would likely depend on approval by regulatory bodies like the US Food & Drug Administration. 

Source: Daily Mail australia

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