Meet 7 Startups Creating Lab-Grown Meat
We cover a isht ton of disruptive technologies here at Nanalyze so that our readers understand what’s out there that may be worth investing in as opportunities present themselves. The hope is that we learn something cool and make a few bucks in the process. It also doesn’t hurt that much of the emerging tech may just help save the planet or at least help prevent us from screwing it up any further. One oft-quoted stat in that regard is that by mid-century we’ll have about 10 billion people crawling all over this blue-and-green marble in the cosmos. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, with China alone projected to have a middle class larger than any nation outside of India and the People’s Republic. And they’ll want to eat meat, and consume other resources, with all of that new-found wealth. In the past, we’ve introduced you to water technology startups that will help slack the thirst for H20. Agricultural technology, or agtech, has also been a popular topic on feeding the future, with articles here, here and here. Today we’re going to chew over the idea of subsisting on lab-grown meat.
You might already be familiar with the subject of growing meat from animal cells, something we highlighted briefly with the startup Memphis Meats in our burger of the future article earlier this year. We had also wondered at the possibility of producing leather from animal cells by a biotechnology startup called Modern Meadow. In fact, there are at least seven companies trying to commercialize lab-grown beef, chicken and seafood cultured from animal cells. The keyword here is “trying,” as the current prices are still out of range even for the regular three-star Michelin diner. For example, it costs Memphis Meats about $6,000 per pound for its test tube chicken. That represents progress: Back in 2013, Mosa Meats in the Netherlands debuted a rather dried-out beef patty at $330,000.
These startups, most taking their cues from the regenerative biotech medical industry, claim their products will represent a better alternative to industrial livestock, which accounts for about 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Lab-grown meat, often referred to as clean meat, may also be healthier, without antibiotics and diseases that currently plague our conventional food system. And then there’s the ethical angle: Lab-grown meat means we’ll be sending fewer animals to the slaughterhouse. Bacon lovers, in particular, take note that swine are at least as smart as man’s best friend.
Companies like Cargill are certainly taking notes—and investing money. Cargill joined billionaire all-stars like Richard Branson and Bill Gates in a recent $17 million Series A to Memphis Meats. Lab-grown meat got an even bigger vote of confidence recently when China announced it would sign a $300 million deal to purchase lab-grown meat from three Israeli biotech companies. Let’s get a taste of what these startups in lab-grown meat are doing today.
100 Percent Lab-Grown Meat … Sort of
A few months after we first highlighted San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, the startup raised $17 million in a Series A, bringing total funding to $22 million. In addition to the investors we’ve already mentioned, backers to Memphis Meats include Elon Musk’s younger brother, Kimbal Musk, who has specialized in investing in food startups with an ethical mission. IndieBio and New Crop Capital, probably the two most well-known VC funds and accelerators for food biotech startups, have also participated in multiple rounds. In 2016, the company premiered its first meatball. In March of this year, it added chicken and duck to the menu. Founded in 2015, Memphis Meats starts with stem cells from the animals and grows muscle tissues in thin layers inside of bioreactors. It may not sound that appetizing but the company has gotten pretty good reviews.
This year it also made a technical breakthrough in how it “nurtures” the meat. Currently, most lab-grown meat relies on fetal bovine serum, an expensive but nutrient-rich extract from the blood of unborn calves. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Memphis Meats has developed a kill-free feed and that the company hopes to have a competitively priced product on store shelves in five years.
One of the pioneers of lab-grown meat, MosaMeat in the Netherlands made history in 2013 with its six-figure beef patty. Since then, the company has reportedly brought the price down to $11 per burger. The stem cells come from organic cows, with cells from a single cow capable of producing 175 million quarter-pounders. You would need about 440,000 bovines to produce a similar amount of beef for your next backyard barbecue. The company expects it will take at least 10 years before lab-grown meat is commercially viable.
Founded in August 2011, Brooklyn-based Modern Meadow has raised $53.5 million and is one of the top-funded agtech startups around. The startup promises to one day work on edible meat but currently focuses on producing cruelty-free leather. The company started out as a small lab using tissue engineering to produce leather from animal cells. Now it uses gene-editing techniques to engineer specialized collagen-producing yeast cells. This is something we’ve discussed previously: Engineering microorganisms such as yeasts to function as a type of nanobot, one of the major advances of synthetic biology.
But is it Kosher?
As we’ve recently learned, Israel is home to the most startups per capita in the world, so we weren’t surprised to learn that there are several startups doing lab-grown meat from the Promised Land, which also boasts the most vegans per capita. Tel Aviv-based SuperMeat raised about $230,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to produce chicken cultured from animal cells. The company says its lab-grown poultry will be cleaner than conventional meat for several reasons, from removing carcinogens such as arsenic from conventionally grown chicken to adding nutrients into the meat during production.
Two other Israeli startups often mentioned are Future Meat Technologies, led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Yaakov Nahmias who licensed his technology to SuperMeat, and Meat the Future, also led by an academic, Shulamit Levenberg, a professor of biomedical engineering at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology.
FoodNavigator reports that Future Meat Technologies is near to closing on a $2 million funding round to develop a “distributive manufacturing” model in which small businesses, and even consumers, could produce their own lab-grown meat in bioreactors using capsules containing starter tissue supplied by Nahmias’ company. Meat the Future, meanwhile, is also in early stages of development, being nurtured by one of Israel’s emerging food tech hubs, The Kitchen, to help it commercialize a tissue-engineering technology to create steak from bovine cells in a bioreactor.
Fishing for Seafood
Brooklyn-based Finless Foods is taking the so-called cellular agriculture riff—culturing meat from animal cells—out to sea. The company has raised an undisclosed amount from IndieBio and SOSV, a VC fund behind the IndieBio accelerator among others. Again, it’s about clean meat: Finless Foods seafood will be free from mercury, plastic and all the crud that goes into aquaculture and fish farming today. The startup takes a small sample of cells from living marine animals to be cultured and structured in a “brewery-like environment in the same shape as a fish fillet.” The company hopes to serve up bluefin tuna from the lab by 2019.
This might be the year that lab-grown meat gets the media attention and money it needs to cook up a brave new world of test-tube tuna and petri-dish poultry. Obviously scalability and sustainability will be keys to ensure its long-term success. There’s also the competition from plant-based meat alternatives that startups like Impossible Foods and New Wave Foods are brewing up with genetically modified yeasts and other organisms, a topic we may return to in a future article.
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