Start-up using tobacco plant in cultivated meat production

Published: 29-Mar-2022

Developing a cost-effective production platform to make cultured meat affordable for mass market adoption has so far proven a significant challenge

Foodtech start-up BioBetter is using tobacco plants to create the growth factors necessary for the cellular development of cultivated meat. The technology could significantly reduce the cost of cultivated meat and advance it rapidly to scale-up, the company claims.

Developing a cost-effective production platform to make cultured meat affordable for mass market adoption has so far proven a significant challenge.

Cell-derived meat requires a culture medium composed of a mix of amino acids, nutrients, and growth factors (GF’s) without which cells cannot multiply. Currently, these media are costly to produce, owing to the complexity of producing GFs. Insulin and transferrin GFs are collected from livestock, making it difficult to obtain large quantities, while some can be attained via fermentation of yeast or bacteria, but those methods require expensive facilities.

“The Good Food Institutes determined that approximately a 100-fold reduction in insulin and transferrin costs is required to make cultivated meat economically viable,” said Dana Yarden, MD, co-founder of BioBetter. “It is estimated that growth factors and cell-culture media can constitute 55 to 95% of the marginal cost in manufacturing cell-based foods.”

BioBetter has developed a platform to use tobacco plants as bioreactors for expression and large-scale production of the proteins. The start-up applies its proprietary protein extraction and purification technology, it says, enabling it to exploit nearly the entire plant while delivering a high purity product at broad scale production. The company claims this has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of producing GFs for cultivated meat. Plant bioreactors use renewable energy and fixate CO2. They are self-forming, self-sustaining, and biodegradable.

“There are multiple advantages to using Nicotiana tabacum as a hardy vector for producing GFs of non-animal origin,” said Amit Yaari, PhD, CEO of BioBetter. “It is an abundant crop that has no place in the food-and-feed chain due to its extremely bitter taste and content of undesirable alkaloids. The global trend for reducing tobacco smoking also is raising concerns among tobacco growers that the crop might eventually become obsolete. Yet the tobacco plant has huge potential to become a key component in the future of food.” Tobacco plants can achieve up to four growth cycles annually and be harvested all year.

The company currently sources tobacco plants from local growers but the goal is to eventually source the raw material from tobacco growers globally.

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