From Lab side to Kitchen side: Sustainable Food

“This is why I love technology: if you used it right, it could give you power and privacy” – Cory Doctorow

Creating waves in the area of sustainable foods, many start-up biotech companies are developing lab-grown foods. Fuelled by IndieBio (a biotech accelerator), these companies are reaching new heights in the sustainable food industry.

What’s cooking in lab?

Lab-grown shrimps: New Wave Foods 

Shrimps are consumed worldwide alongwith delicacies ranging from steaks to cocktails. Having said that, the temptation of having shrimps on the platter comes at the cost of heavy price.

One dark side is the destruction of the vulnerable ecosystem, which includes high carbon footprint contributing to huge amount of carbon emission, and disruption of habitat accompanied with other environmental impacts. The other concern is the slave labor prevalent in the shrimp fishing industry that involves human trafficking and abusing. Of the different seafood varieties, the shrimp fishing industry is considered to be the most painstaking with the highest number of fatalities. These two concerns are precisely the reasons for developing alternatives to the ocean-based shrimps.

In this light, Dominique Barnes (marine conservationist) and Michelle Wolf (materials scientist), founders of New Waves Food (a biotech startup), came up with a sustainable seafood solution for developing artificial shrimp. The group developed faux shrimps using plant proteins and the algae that shrimps eat. The alternate thus produced has strikingly similar color, texture, taste, along with the nutritional value. To add on, unlike the natural shrimps, these artificial ones does not contain antibiotics and toxins, making them healthier and safer. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming response was received by the plant based lab-made shrimp for the outstanding culinary experience it offered.

“So we actually received an email from Google saying they are looking to reduce the amount of shrimp they are serving on their menu due to all the sustainability reasons and they asked us if we could be a suitable alternative,” Dominique Barnes, co-founder and CEO, New Wave Foods, told CCTV-america. “So we took samples to their executive chef and he really loved the product and placed an order on the spot.” They got an order for 90Kg of the product, which allowed them to hire more staff and kept the team busy.

Cultured Meat: Memphis Meats

The inhumane business of animal slaughtering to fulfil the worldwide demand of meat led to the birth of this alternate food startup- Memphis Meats

World’s first cultured meat (grown outside the animal) is created by isolating cells from pig, chicken and beef cells. These cells can regenerate themselves, and are provided with nutrients and oxygen to result in a nutrient-rich, contaminant-free product. With the healthy and delicious cultured meat, the founders of the startup Uma Valeti (cardiologist), Nicholas Genovese (stem cell biologist), and Will Clem (biomedical engineer), plan to market sausages, burgers and meatballs.

“We watched how the meatball reacted in the pan, we heard the sizzle, we smelled the meat and it was exactly how you would expect a meatball to smell”, says Valeti.

On the other hand, Prof Mark Post, the team lead of Cultured Beef, Maastricht University is in the process of refining the science of growing meat in his lab back in Netherlands. He was in news recently for having cultured meat in a petri dish which was used to make a burger patty!

Vegan Gelatin- Gelzen

Gelatin is one of the common constituents in some of the foods we relish, cosmetics we apply and medicines we are prescribed. But that gelatin is harvested by boiling the connective tissues and bones from animals such as cows and pigs. In the search of an alternate non-animal source of gelatin, Gelzen startup developed the vegan version of gelatin.

The founders Alexander Lorestani (MA in Molecular Biology from Princeton University) and Nikolay Ouzounov (PhD in Molecular Biology from Princeton University) take pride in introducing their vegan gelatin as a cost-competitive, safe, customizable, and sustainable product. Read a full report about them in: Gelzen Inc- Making sustainable, animal-free gelatin by Laxmi Iyer from Biotechin.Asia!

Vegan formula milk: BioNascent

Milk and milk products are marketed and consumed globally and the demand is only rising. With the aim to provide safe, nutritious formula milk without involving traditional farm animals Craig Rouskey (immunologist) and Shane Greenup (majors in Philosophy, Molecular biology, and the History and Philosophy of Science) co-founded their startup company named BioNascent.

When asked about the advantage of the the synthetic milk over the natural milk, Craig says “The protein concentration in cow milk is very different from that in human milk. This predisposes the child to diabetes, obesity and other diseases. It also has an impact on the immune system and causes allergic reactions. By replacing the bovine proteins with human components, we can get rid of the allergies and obtain a better balance of proteins that creates a healthy level of serum amino acid and down stream insulin production. This gets rid of the diabetes and obesity issue”, as reported by Aishwarya Bhargav from Biotechin.Asia.         

Similarly, Willow Cup, founded in late 2015 by Sara Bonham and Craig Deebank, is removing the cow from the dairy equation to re-invent our premium indulgences using plants. At Willow Cup, the team is harnessing the infinite properties of plant proteins and specialty processing methods to create a “new dairy.” Their vision of dairy will be healthier, more functional, flavorful, efficient, ethical and sustainable, reports Narmada B C from Biotechin.Asia.

The scope

With diligent efforts, sustainable foods are now seen as the future of food industry and welcomed with open arms with the promise of safer, delicious and environment friendly cuisines. However, it will take some time before they are accepted in the market by all and sundry. Convincing the mass that the lab grown foods are safe is one of the challenges. As Barnes from New Waves Food puts it, “The biggest challenge here is getting people to accept algae as a food since it has a negative connotation in the food world. We have to educate people that algae are actually a big reason why our seafood is healthy, sustainable, and delicious”.

Putting the animal-based products at bay, these lab-based food alternatives are paving the way for a sustainable food market.

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