Several companies are trying to save the environment with meat substitutes, often using vegetable proteins or grains to imitate the taste and texture of real meat. However, few have attempted to create cultured meat using animal cells—and those that have know just how expensive lab-grown meat can be, making it an option for just the privileged few.
Future Meat Technologies, a BioTech startup based in Israel, is pioneering what is, thus far, the most cost-efficient technique to make lab-grown meat a reality.
The startup’s sustainable, GMO-free production process constructs meat directly from animal cells, without the need to raise or harvest animals. The company has developed a manufacturing model that results in in 99 percent less land use and 80 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional meat.
“I personally want to make sure my children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same meat dishes that I grew up with,” Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, the company’s founder and chief scientist, said in a statement. “The worldwide demand for protein is growing exponentially, and the only way to meet this demand is by fundamentally reinventing animal agriculture. Future Meat Technologies created a cost-effective solution for cultured meat manufacturing that is scalable and sustainable by design.”
To create this sustainable, inexpensive meat, Future Meat starts with fibroblast cells—the most common connective tissue cells in animals—that are undifferentiated. Then, these cells are induced into a rapid growth process that focuses on turning the cells into either fat cells or muscle cells.
“The fat gives you the aroma and the distinct flavor of meat,” Nahmias told TechCrunch. “This is the missing ingredient in Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.”
Once the fat and muscle cells start growing, they’re put in a culture with a specific resin that removes waste materials while allowing the cells to continue growing. Otherwise, the cells would basically be growing in their own excrement—a problem has often hindered lab-growth meat from becoming scalable.
“You need cells that grow without any growth factor at all,” Nahmias explained, regarding the excrement issue. “The only cells that can do that are the least differentiated cells, which are fibroblasts.”
Using the company’s techniques with a refrigerator-sized bioreactor, a manufacturer could get about half a ton of meat and fat in about two weeks. In about one month, growers can cultivate two cows’ worth of meat—a fraction of the 12 to 18 months that cows need before they are ready for slaughter.
Currently, small-scale, lab-grown meat costs about $150 per pound of chicken and $200 per pound of beef to produce. Future Meat plans to release hybrid products at a competitive cost from its pilot production facility by 2021 and launch a second line of 100 percent lab-grown meat products for less than $10 per pound by 2022.
The company raised $14 million in Series A funding in a round led by S2G Ventures and Emerald Technology Ventures, with participation by Henry Soesanto, Manta Ray Ventures and Bits x Bites. The funds will be used to expand Future Meat’s production facilities.
All Nahmias wants is for Future Meat to get to market and make a difference—regardless of whether its under his name or a major brand.
“I want to be the largest company you’ve never heard of,” he said. “I want to make a product that is more sustainable and more cost-efficient, and is better for everybody.”