The move, which comes six months after Tyson upped its stake in plant-based meat brand Beyond Meat, is further proof that while some commentators are predicting a pitched battle between plant-based, animal-based, and cellular agriculture, leading meat brands are more agnostic about their protein sources, said Justin Whitmore, EVP, Corporate Strategy and Chief Sustainability Officer at Tyson Foods.
"This is our first investment in an Israel-based company and we're excited about this opportunity to broaden our exposure to innovative, new ways of producing protein. We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices."
Jerusalem-based Future Meat Technologies focuses on the cost-efficient production of fat and muscle cells, and is developing a ‘distributive manufacturing’ model, whereby small businesses (and ultimately even consumers) could produce small quantities of ‘meat’ locally in their own bioreactors using capsules containing ‘starter’ tissue produced by Future Meat.
It was founded by Yaakov Nahmias, a professor of bioengineering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a specialist in tissue engineering techniques refined from regenerative medicine, while the technology is based on Prof. Nahmias' research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is licensed through Yissum, the Technology Transfer Company of The Hebrew University.
The $2.2m funding round was supported by Tyson Ventures, Israeli food conglomerate the Neto Group, Chicago-based VC fund S2G Ventures , Chinese food tech VC fund BitsXBites, New York-based HB Ventures, and Agrinnovation, an Israeli investment fund founded by Yissum.
"It is difficult to imagine cultured meat becoming a reality with a current production price of about $10,000 per kilogram," said Professor Nahmias. "We redesigned the manufacturing process until we brought it down to $800 per kilogram today, with a clear roadmap to $5-10 per kg by 2020."
Our cells have the unique potential of differentiating into myocytes (muscle cells) and adipocytes (fat cells)
So what kinds of cells is Professor Nahmias working with?
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA in October 2017, Prof Nahmias said: “Like everyone else we start with a biopsy, so we take cells, but we don’t take muscle cells or muscle stem cells, which are satellite cells, we use a different type of cell – a mesenchymal type of cell [from chickens] that grows faster and in a cheaper medium as it has fewer nutritional requirements than myocytes [muscle cells] and satellite cells. Our cells have the unique potential of differentiating into myocytes and adipocytes [fat cells],” he said.
“We are using connective tissue cells that are spontaneously immortalized [they have an unlimited capacity to reproduce and divide] without genetic modification [some companies are using GM techniques to make this happen]. These cells can be pushed ‘sideways’ toward muscle or fat, which is very important for the taste, aroma and texture of the meat, and we’re growing them in a patent-protected serum-free, animal-free culture medium only using FDA approved materials and without the use of antibiotics."
He added: “We can produce animal fat en masse; we’ve patented it, and we think it is going to be one of the major breakthroughs. I have a feeling that we might see hybrid products in future that might use this, things like plant protein combined with animal fat [made in bioreactors].
Future Meat Technologies does not use animal serum (the liquid part of blood) in its process (some start-ups growing cultured beef, for example, began by using fetal bovine serum, a byproduct of the livestock industry, although they have since claimed to have validated animal-free alternatives).
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