The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Do Vegan Alternatives Exist for Enzymes Used in Research Labs?

Posted on December 07, 2016 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Jeanne Yacoubou MS

The VRG received an email inquiry in October 2016 from a graduate student studying nutritional science in Germany:
Question: Do you know if there’s any resource for finding vegan alternatives to animal sourced enzymes/other laboratory “ingredients”?
For my master’s thesis I..[am] extracting cardiac glycosides from plants, separating them with chromatography (HPTLC), and then doing a bioassay directly on the HPTLC plate.

This bioassay will be with pig Na+/K+-ATPase because cardiac glycosides inhibit this enzyme specifically.

[VRG Note: Here is an animated depiction of how Na+/K+-ATPase functions in cell membranes:]

Answer: There have been technological advances in manufacturing on a large scale some proteins such as albumin, trypsin or insulin using non-animal sources:,nav?
To the best of our knowledge there is currently no commercially available non-animal enzyme source for Na+/K+-ATPase. Major laboratory suppliers use porcine organs:

It is possible to create Na+/K+-ATPase using yeast as this article describes:

The Materials and Methods section beginning on p. 2 (in paragraph titled “Plasmid Constructions”) identifies the source of the original pig gene from a cDNA library. Libraries for many species are widely available.

Genetic copies begin from an original gene from the source organism. The process is described in Step 1:

In the case of porcine ATPase, the animal DNA, when incorporated into the genetic material of microbes such as yeast, may result in the production by the microorganism of large amounts of the protein (i.e., the ATPase enzyme) coded for by the copied gene.

Interested readers may note that enzyme research may be carried out using animal cells such as those from squid because they are large:

Lastly, the microorganisms involved in recombinant DNA technology are often grown on broths containing the dairy protein casein ( a common ingredient in the LB medium mentioned on p. 2 of the article cited above), or on sucrose or glucose (i.e., sugar) which may have been filtered through cow bone char.

If any reader knows of a vegan source for laboratory enzymes please let us know at

The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

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