A startup turns the tobacco plant into a natural bioreactor for animal-free meat
Spotted: The production of animal-based foods results in twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as plant-based food. And given that the demand for meat is expected to rise in coming decades, the race is on to develop more sustainable methods of meat production. Accordingly, the number of companies working on cultivated meat – where meat is grown in-vitro without the need for slaughter – has risen to 170 around the world. Despite an increased interest in its production, cultivated meat remains a challenging and expensive product to produce. But with the creation of new growth factors, startup BioBetter promises to make cultured meat both accessible and affordable.
The startup is hoping to “alleviate one of the biggest bottlenecks in advancing cultivated meat to mass production”. The production of cultivated meat requires a ‘growth factor’ – a nutritious substance that feeds cell growth. Current growth factors are either produced from livestock or via fermentation and both involve complicated and high-cost processes. In fact, 55-95 per cent of the cost of cultivated meat is due to the retrieval of these growth factors. But with its simply made products, BioBetter estimates that it could lower the cost of production from the typical range of $50,000-$500,000 per gramme of growth factor, to just one dollar.
And unlike the current production of growth factors which often involves the extraction of cells from a live animal, such as fetal bovine serum (FBS) which is harvested from an unborn calf, BioBetter’s production is 100 per cent animal-free, and uses tobacco plants as natural, self-sustaining bioreactors. The company inserts gene sequences into the tobacco plants, which then produce the necessary growth factors. As the plants grow, BioBetter analyses the various plants to choose those which better express the proteins. After the liquid from these chosen plants is extracted, it then undergoes an extraction and purification process.
Currently, the company has finalised three crucial growth factors: Insulin, Transferrin, and FGF2, with several others also in development. BioBetter claims that its technology can produce proteins from ‘any type and origin’ and without the need for highly skilled personnel. Not only are BioBetter’s products cheaper and easier to produce than other existing growth factors, but they are also totally vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Other recent cultured meat innovations spotted by Springwise include cultivated pork made with an algae-based growth factor, cultivated seafood, and cell-grown pork sausages.
Written By: Matthew Hempstead