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Academic and Industry Interviews

We conducted interviews with both academic and industry professionals. We interviewed professors from academic fields such as Biomedical Ethics, Microbiology, Food Nutrition, and Biochemistry along with professionals from the BC Dairy Association (a not-for-profit society promoting milk consumption) to gain a better understanding of the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms in the dairy industry. These interviews helped us develop a public survey for analyzing the general public's opinion on GMOs, and the video below is a summary of our interviews and highlights the many poignant points brought up.

In addition, we also interviewed industry professionals form Olympic Dairy Products Inc. to gain insight into the yogurt production process and to examine how our CRISPR system can be potentially implemented. Interview questions and responses are found below.

Olympic Dairy Products Inc. Interviews

Current Industry Practices

  • What are the current bioreactors and systems that you use?

The current bioreactors we use for fermentation of milk employs 3 different strains of bacteria bought from culture suppliers Danisco, Chr. Hansen, and Lallemand. The information and procedures for proper handling of the bacteria cultures are provided by the suppliers and further validated by a third party organization. Optimization of bioreactors is also conducted by third party organizations.

  • What methods do you use to prevent phage infection? How effective are they?

The main method we use to prevent phage infection is shifting which bacteria cultures are used in the bioreactors on a daily basis. By constantly changing the bacteria culture used for fermentation, we prevent the build up of phages that can eliminate the bacteria colony. Secondary levels of preventing phage infection include regular chemical cleaning and sterilization of bioreactor chambers. Stringent facility maintenance and cleaning along with caution exercised by personnel further prevent phage infection.

  • What are the main considerations when choosing a method to prevent phage infection?

The main considerations we have for methods of preventing phage infection are simplicity and safety. The method to prevent phage infection should be streamlined and simple; industry wants to maximize efficiency. The second influencing factor is safety. Olympic Dairy Products Inc. produces quality safe products, and prevention of phage infection should guaranteed. As a small yogurt producer, it is not acceptable to produce a batch of yogurt only to realize that the bacteria colonies have failed resulting in large losses.

  • What are your considerations when selecting strains for starter culture?

The two major considerations are flavoring and safety. Flavoring of the final product is very important to the consumer; therefore, any starter cultures that can adversely affect flavoring will not be used. Safety of the final product is crucial. Certain bacteria cultures are not compatible with specific dairy products.

  • What are the largest cost factors associated with yogurt production, we found 10% loss due to phage contamination, is that accurate?

The largest costs associated with yogurt production in descending order are milk, packaging, and fruits for flavoring. Revenue lost due to phage contamination is currently less than 10%. However, during the initial stages of creating the company and developing the products, phage contamination caused more than 50% of the bioreactors to collapse until multiple bacteria cultures were adopted.


  • Is our system of preventing phage infection in your opinion feasible?

We do not produce bacteria cultures ourselves so we cannot comment on the feasibility of the project. Currently, changing bacteria cultures on a daily basis is a simple task and not a technical challenge. However, if the project can achieve the requirements of simplicity and safety, it should be feasible. The main advantage we see in your CRISPR system is that only one bacteria culture needs to be used. This will further streamline the process and also decrease the amount of bioreactor chambers used decreasing operating costs.

  • Is our system's ability to tune bacteria populations useful in the dairy industry?

This again is a question for the culture suppliers. The supplier provides guidelines regarding how much bacteria need to be used in order to reach the amount of colonies needed. Overall, Research and Development for culture suppliers would be more interested in tuning bacteria populations.

  • What factors can we work on in order to make our system feasible, efficient, or better in general?

Two factors that are important for yogurt producers are shelf life of bacteria cultures and operating temperature of bacteria cultures. It would be very helpful if CRISPR can be used to increase the shelf life of bacteria cultures. In addition, it would be useful if bacteria cultures can be modified to be incubated for a shorter period of time, or perform at the same efficiency despite at a lower temperature (ex. work at 65°C instead of 110 °C).


  • Would you consider using a biosynthetic process to generate flavoring compounds?

We are a completely organic yogurt company so we only use fruits for flavoring. As a result, we cannot use biosynthetic processes to generate flavoring.

  • How do you control flavor? Are the flavoring agents derived from petrochemicals?

We control flavor by putting different fruits into the yogurt and adding sugar and other organic flavoring compounds. We do not use flavoring agents derived from petrochemicals.

Human Practices

  • What is the largest barrier blocking the acceptance of GMO products by the public? Based on your background what would be the best solution to that barrier?

I think the biggest barrier for the acceptance of GMO products is the factor of the “unknown” associated with GMOs. People are generally not educated regarding how GMOs work, and they believe that there aren’t enough tests for their safety. Because of the “unknown”, people are not willing to accept GMOs. However, I think this is not a valid argument as GMOs really may shape the future of the food industry. The fact that there may be risks in the future is not necessarily a deterrent to employing this great technology today when the benefits are apparent.

Video - Academic and Industry Interviews

Questions for Academic and BC Dairy Industry


  • Different countries, scientific groups and companies’ definition of GMOs vary. What defines GMOs on a scientific level? What defines GMOs on a legal level?
  • What might be bigger barrier to having a GMO product accepted by the public?


  • Are there dangers associated with GMOs? If so, what are these dangers?
  • If GMOs need trial rounds to prove their harmful or harmlessness, would it be worth investing in testing them? Why or why not?

Social Impact and Public Perception:

  • Are there actual harms associated with GMOs or is there a disconnect between public perception and the real science?
  • Is there a legacy or history that influences the perception on GMOs?
  • How would the public view GMO produce as opposed to GMO dairy products? How?
  • How does the idea of Genetically Modified bacteria differ than that of other GMOs (example. Crops) in the public’s opinion?

Ecological and Economical:

  • Is there a capacity for GMO food products to become the most sustainable food source?
  • What role does or will GMOs have in developing food and nutrition issues around the world?
  • How would GMOs affect the industry? For example by minimizing work for farmers etc?
  • Would GMOs help harvesting in more extreme climates and minimize shipping times and costs as a result?

Legal and Moral:

  • Have the policies and regulations kept up with current practices with regards to GMOs?
  • Some argue that we do not currently know enough about GMOs to determine if they are safe and we should therefore assume that they are harmful. Is this a valid argument?
  • Are we ethically obligated to inform the public if and how the products they’re buying was genetically modified?

Would you consider using GMOs if:

  • The price of GMO food products was lower than that of non-GMO food products?
  • GM foods have less ecological impact? (For example not using animals as the meat source)
  • We produced food from waste streams including wood and pulp?
  • GMOs could replace pesticides and antibiotics?
  • Genetically Modified foods tasted better than organic foods?
  • GMOs have medical benefits?

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