As multiple grown meat startups progress beyond the proof-of-concept stage, they face one of the industry’s most challenges in cultured meat production—scaled manufacturing.
The Israeli foodtech startup BioBetter is reusing tobacco plants to provide the growth factors required for the cellular development of cultured meat.
Cell-derived meat requires a culture medium rich in amino acids, minerals, and, most critically, growth factors (GF’s) that cells cannot expand without. At the moment, such media are prohibitively expensive due to the intricacy of creating GF’s.
For example, insulin and transferrin GFs are obtained from cattle, making huge quantities difficult to get. Some can be obtained using yeast or bacteria fermentation, although these techniques require expensive infrastructure. Additionally, the purifying procedure is difficult and costly.
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BioBetter capitalized on the natural benefits of tobacco plants by converting them into bioreactors for protein expression and synthesis on a massive scale. Plant bioreactors generate energy from renewable sources and fix CO2.
They are self-forming, self-sustaining, and biodegradable. BioBetter uses open-field plantations to enable fast, efficient, and flexible responses to market needs.
This historic botanical breakthrough has the potential to dramatically cut the cost of produced meat and accelerate its scale-up. The company predicts that its new technology will enable the manufacturing of thousands of tons of growth factors annually at a cost of $1 per gram for the cultured meat industry.
Founded in 2015 by Prof. Oded Shoseyov, a serial entrepreneur and researcher at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr. Dana Yarden, a biotech business expert, and Avi Tzur, an industrialist with an avid vision to put the tobacco plant to positive use and who also was the first investor in the technology.
BioBetter has raised $5 million to date from private investors and the institutional VC, Alpha Capital Anstalt. The company currently employs 23 researchers and is supported by the Israel Innovation Authority and the Good Food Institute CM development research programs, a non-profit organization that promotes meat alternatives.
The Good Food Institute (GFI) has calculated that a 100-fold reduction in insulin and transferring production costs is necessary to make the cultured meat industry financially viable,” Dr. Dana Yarden, MD, co-founder of BioBetter, explains. “It is estimated that growth factors and cell-culture media can constitute 55% to 85% of the marginal cost in manufacturing cell-based foods.”
“The tobacco plant has clear advantages for the production process of growth factors from a non-animal source,” explains Dr. Amit Yaari, the CEO of BioBetter. “It grows quickly, accumulates a large biomass, and can yield four harvests a year. It is also suited for the production of a large number of complex proteins. The global trend to reduce the smoking of tobacco is causing tobacco farmers, especially in the US, to seek new uses for the plant. The tobacco plant has vast potential to become a key element in the future of food – a future that we at BioBetter will make possible.”