Cultivated meat is closer than ever to your dinner table, with a massive increase in efficiency that means pork meat can be grown in just one week.
When I reported on Meatable earlier this year, they told me they could make pork meat in a few weeks.
That was already a lot quicker than on the farm, where a pig is reared for eight months before being slaughtered.
But at SynBioBeta this week, Meatable announced that they have smashed their own record.
“Last year it would take us three weeks to differentiate cells, and now we’ve brought that down to only a few days,” said Daan Luining, co-founder and CTO of Meatable. “We expect to continue to reduce this time period further.
“We’ve created a product of the highest quality with the expressions of proteins and long fatty acid chains which are essential to give meat its unique pork sensory experience.”
What is Meatable’s cultivated meat?
Meatable creates cultivated meat from just a single animal cell using the same opti-ox™ technology as bit.bio uses to make human cells for medicines.
The technology enables Meatable – whose co-founder Mark Kotter is also CEO of bit.bio – to convert animal stem cells into meat.
That single starter cell is slightly different from other companies in the sphere. It’s a type of stem cell, scientifically termed pluripotent, which can be readily grown and converted into special tissue such as muscle and fat – the basic components of a sausage.
Furthermore, Meatable has developed a continuous perfusion process that can generate 80 million cells per milliliter, which the company says is more productive and easy to scale up.
“This marks a very important milestone for Meatable,” says Krijn de Nood, co-founder and CEO of Meatable
“We’ve now demonstrated that we have the world’s most efficient process, which is required if we are to create products that compete with the low prices of conventional meat.”
More sustainable meat
An attention-grabbing headline did the rounds earlier this month. A UC Davis preprint, yet to be peer reviewed, claims current cultivated meat could have 4-25 times greater greenhouse gas emissions than beef.
It’s based on a life cycle analysis (LCA) of some of the key ingredients used to grow animal cells in bioreactors, assuming pharmaceutical grade components that require energy-intensive manufacture.
A CE Delft analysis published in 2021 says the opposite. It estimates that, if greater than 30% of energy use were sourced sustainably, cultivated meat would be more sustainable even than chicken farming.
Its most positive assessment suggested cultivated meat could reduce global warming effects by 92% compared with conventional beef.
It aligns with a nuanced set of conclusions from a study by the University of Oxford in 2019, which posited that future emissions related to cultivated meat largely depend on the degree of renewable energy use and process efficiency.
I asked Meatable, who confirmed that already they are testing media in which 70% of ingredients are food grade rather than pharmaceutical, and they are working on increasing that percentage.
Efficiency, meanwhile, is key for Meatable, whose process has not been considered in the most recent UC Davis analysis.
“The opti-ox technology is crucial for our scale-up process. So far nobody has included this technology in their LCA,” explains Luining. “This system has a significant impact on the efficiency, cost, and quality of the process.
“In combination with our pluripotent pig cells, with densities reaching 80 million per milliliter, we have the right combination of technologies to tackle the challenges presented in this paper.”
It’s critical to note, too, that cultivated meat comes with the significant upside of not having to slaughter billions of animals each year.
There are also huge potential reductions in land (95% lower) and water use (78% lower), with more positive outlooks pointing out that this extra land could be rewilded, acting as a carbon sponge.
Cultivated meat ready for the mass market
With efficiency gains like this, Meatable is confident it can hit the mass market by 2025 with an affordable product that can compete with traditional meat.
If you’re in Singapore, a pioneering country that has already paved the way for cultivated meat products, you may well be able to tuck into a Meatable sausage or pork dumpling even sooner.
There, Meatable has partnered with the world’s currently only licensed cultivated meat producer, ESCO Aster.
Just last week, the company held its world-first tasting after receiving the Singapore Food Agency’s approval.
“To achieve our vision of providing the world with harm-free meat, we have to be price competitive,” said de Nood. “If we can’t achieve this, then it will remain something that only wealthy people can afford, making it incredibly difficult to encourage consumers to embrace cultivated meat in their diets.
“With our recent achievements, we have a combination that enables us to create affordable cultivated meat at scale. I’m excited for the next steps to get our products regulated and ready for consumers to try next year so that we can satisfy the world’s appetite for meat without harming people, animals, or the planet.”
Thank you to Peter Bickerton for additional research and reporting on this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta and some of the companies I write about, including Vibe Bio, are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest. For more content, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter.