Aleph Farms & Wacker to eliminate fetal bovine serum from cell-based meat equation
08 Dec 2021 --- Aleph Farms and protein tech supplier Wacker are collaborating to develop new fermentation-based growth medium proteins, which will eliminate significant cost barriers for the mass-produced cultivated meat.
While the cell-based protein industry still largely relies on fetal bovine serum supplied by the livestock industry for its medium, this partnership aims to decouple from this traditional model.
This open supply chain solution is expected to help the burgeoning cellular agriculture industry scale and achieve price-parity faster, eliminating a key hurdle in the commercial viability of cell-based products.
“Growth medium proteins are essential components naturally found in animals and represent one of the most prohibitive expenses to scaling cultivated meat,” Didier Toubia, cofounder and CEO at Aleph Farms, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“These proteins help cells grow and mature into muscle, fat and collagen-producing cells and are imperative for supporting cellular activity,” he notes.
“Our agreement with Wacker is non-exclusive, meaning any cultivated meat company will be able to obtain these same affordable proteins without using fetal bovine serum or animal-derived ingredients.”
Curbing reliance on animal industry
Fetal bovine serum is a growth medium for cell-based meat that is conventionally harvested from the blood of fetuses taken from pregnant cows slaughtered in meat or dairy supply chains.
This particular cocktail of proteins is an ideal growth medium for various animal cells to grow and duplicate.
Growth medium proteins are not widely available in the market today and represent one of the most prohibitive expenses in scaling up cultivated meat. And while this is a key consideration, curbing the cell-based industry’s reliance on fetal bovine serum is pivotal to its “cleaner meat” philosophy.
In a study published in Biochemical Engineering Journal, Liz Specht, senior scientist at the Good Food Institute, estimates that a standard 20,000 liter batch of cells cultured using fetal bovine serum, would yield between 1,800 and 4,500 kg of meat.
“Bringing down the cost and making suitable raw materials available at this key moment in the scale-up of production is imperative to taking cultivated meat mainstream and driving impact,” remarks Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms.
“Our team’s scientific expertise alongside Wacker’s vast experience makes it possible to produce proteins at the quantity, quality and cost necessary to meet Aleph’s aggressive goal of achieving cost-parity with conventional meat.
Recent analysis by Dutch research organization CE Delft found that cultivated meat may hit competitive cost and environmental benchmarks by 2030.
Over the price hurdle
Aleph Farms is the first cultivated meat company to grow steaks directly from non-genetically engineered animal cells.
In September, Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio invested in the Israeli food-tech player, while joining its advisory board to help “usher in a new age of meat production.”
When asked about the potential for cell-based meat to compete with plant-based foods in the alternative protein arena, Toubia responds: “It’s not a matter of plant-based versus cultivated meat, it’s about coming up with a series of solutions for sustainable food.”
“There is a need for both new production methods for cultivated meat and for plant-based meat alternatives in the market as well. There isn’t one single bullet for everyone.”
A recent independent Life Cycle Analysis study found that cultivated beef production is projected to reduce climate impact by 92%, air pollution by 93%, use 95% less land and 78% less water than industrial beef production.
Leveraging fermentation tech
Wacker brings over 20 years of experience in protein production to the partnership, as well as a deep understanding of the food industry’s requirements and regulations.
At its corporate research labs in Munich, Wacker is working on fermentation techniques for producing cell culture proteins for use in food applications, which will have the same composition of proteins produced inside the animal’s body.
Similar production techniques are widely used today to produce enzymes for food processing applications.
“The market for cultivated meat is advancing rapidly and we want to contribute to making it an affordable reality for everyone,” adds Susanne Leonhartsberger, president of Wacker Biosolutions, Wacker’s life science division.
“We have many years of experience in the field of protein production. Our scientists have developed advanced production technologies that we can draw on.”
The next big food revolution?
The global race to scale and commercialize cell-based alternative proteins has gathered significant pace.
Chinese public government records released this year indicate that significant funds are being allocated to help the nation’s alternative proteins sector optimize and scale up.
Last October, China’s first cell-based meat company Joes Future Food secured US$10.9 million to produce cultivated pork, as a follow-up to its CNY 50 million (US$7.7 million) series A funding round.
Elsewhere, South African cellular agriculture food-tech company Mogale Meat is developing solutions to future-proof its region’s inadequate nutrition and food security issues – including creating exotic cell-based meat from free-roaming antelope and cattle.
“An inclusive solution must realize the complexity of relationships between different activities and stakeholders and account for the socio-cultural differences within our ecosystem,” remarks Toubia.
“Food systems touch all people, and it will take all of us to make this change happen, each playing our own role in an inclusive transition to a more sustainable, equitable and secure world.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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