SuperMeat, an Israeli foodtech startup, is developing the technology to create cultured meat from chicken cells in a safe and controlled environment, external to the animal’s body. The company is launching a crowdfunding campaign to create the first device in the world to grow a whole chicken breast. SuperMeat plans to make cultured meat a viable replacement for animal meat, and the crowdfunding campaign is the first step. The company is working towards the distributive manufacturing of cultured meat, designing devices that could be placed at grocery stores, restaurants, and ultimately in consumer homes.
Chicken meat has been a major source of dietary protein since the dawn of the agricultural revolution. However, rapid urbanization and population growth led to the development of intensive farming methods. Factory farms now produce close to nine billion chickens each year in the United States, with growth and transportation producing 18% of current greenhouse emissions. Recent studies suggest that over 70% of chicken meat in the United States contains unsafe levels of arsenic, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. In addition, high animal density causes widespread fecal contamination of meat leading to increased incidence of salmonella.
SuperMeat is working on a solution. Cultured or “clean” meat offers the ability to grow traditional meat products from animal cells. However, current cell culture techniques, developed over the past 50 years for research, are incredibly wasteful and translate to a lower bound of $100, 000 to $50, 000 per kilogram.
SuperMeat’s technological solution is to organically grow meat in devices that mimic natural animal physiology, permitting cost-efficient meat production, free of animal serum (such as fetal bovine serum). SuperMeat’s device will open the door to an affordable and sustainable source of human food, helping to end agricultural animal cruelty, and mitigating negative environmental and public health effects associated with chicken agriculture and consumption.
The Technology Behind SuperMeat
SuperMeat aims to take a small biopsy sample from a chicken, and segregate it into separate cells that will proliferate in culture. Scientists will then form tiny tissues from the cells and grow them organically into full-size tissue. The process will occur in an environment designed to mimic the chicken’s physiology, and result in chicken meat indistinguishable from conventional meat in terms of flavor and texture.
The company’s unique approach allows SuperMeat to design small scale meat producing devices, that will be at restaurants, supermarkets, and in the future, in individual homes. The technology will enhance the nutritional value of the meat, creating superfoods rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium, and iron.
This work is possible due to the extensive expertise in chemical engineering, genetics, stem cell biology and regenerative medicine of SuperMeat co-founder, Professor Yaakov Nahmias, the Director of the Alexander Grass Center of Bioengineering at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose research is funded by the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Nahmias’s work established the 3D printing of complex liver tissue back in 2006, and more recently, has demonstrated the serum free expansion of human liver cells to 10-100 ton weight at $75, 000 per kilogram, in what was considered a major scientific breakthrough in 2015.
Making Cultured Meat a Reality
SuperMeat is hard at work creating a machine to grow cultured chicken, but they need the public’s support. With the help of an Indiegogo campaign, in two years SuperMeat predicts to have created the first ever cultured chicken meat.
“We founded SuperMeat to revolutionize the food industry, and promote an animal-free humane solution to world hunger and environmental degradation that will secure a better future for our children, ” said SuperMeat CEO and Co-Founder, Koby Barak. “Our team is comprised of a diverse group of advocates, scientists, health professionals, and environmentalists, coming together to create an incredible and truly groundbreaking device that will grow real, tasty meat, with zero animal suffering, and reach the market within five years.”