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Breaking down cellular agriculture

Cellular agriculture entrepreneurs and startups attracted over $20 million of investment funding in 2015, including the likes of Memphis Meats, Muufri and Gelzen. Unlike the recent wave of plant-based products, cellular agriculture processes are not about designing substitutes with a similar texture and taste, but rather about applying tissue engineering methods to make products that are molecularly identical to those made by conventional methods. 

Photo credit: fdecomite via Visual hunt / CC BY
Photo credit: fdecomite via Visual hunt / CC BY

In a recent article for AgFunder News, Erin Kim, a member of the team at New Harvest, a non-profit research institute aiming to advance cellular agriculture as a field of work, outlined three main production methods currently utilised in the area.

  • Cellular production – quite literally harvesting and growing the replicated cells themselves in their entirety. The world’s first cultured beef hamburger, made by Dr. Mark Post was created in this way in 2013 as proof of concept.
  • Acellular production – a process that can utilised for products like eggs, gelatin and milk, this method doesn’t use cells or microbes to form the basis of the products themselves, but rather as a growing factory to produce fats and proteins. This is a method that has been utilised for time, for example in the creation of human insulin, which had to be collected directly from the pancreases of pigs or cattle before the late 1970s.
  • Fermentation – a well-known and old scientific process used to create alcohol, yogurt and many pickled foods. An example of its application in the cellular agriculture space is Afineur, a company that makes cultured coffee, where the coffee beans undergo a second fermentation process to transform the product’s flavour and reducing bitterness.
Photo credit: Bryan Nabong via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Bryan Nabong via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Of course, cellular agriculture’s eventual market and commercial success will depend on ongoing research and development, which means the timeline for products hitting the market is variable and uncertain. However, current investment is being driven by a number of factors, including the need to answer the fundamental question, what does it loom like to feed a population of over 9 billion people by 2050?

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Seb Egerton-Read

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb writes daily content for Circulate across the full spectrum of the website's topics. Previously he has spent five years as a freelance writer for a number of websites and blogs. You can e-mail Seb at seb[at]circulatenews.org

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