AMSTERDAM – Officials with Meatable, the latest startup to enter the sustainable, cell-based meat market, are hoping its formula for success will give meat eaters viable protein options in the future.
The Dutch-based group plans to push alternative meat options into the expanding choices for consumers.
Meatable states that its technology is based on using a cell from a cow, chicken or pig to create animal muscle and fat cells that grow into cell-based meat. The company intends to make a hamburger that is completely animal free, wholly scalable and cost-efficient within three years.
With the prospect of an entire cell-based burger, the leaders of Meatable, Chief Technical Officer Daan Luining and CEO Krijn De Nood, discussed their vision and goals and shared their vision earlier this month for the company.
In an interview with MEAT+POULTRY, Luining and De Nood discussed what needs to happen next to make their vision a reality.
M+P: Tell us about your background in this field and how you got to a point that Meatable was scalable.
Daan Luining: I joined the team of Mark Post, who produced the first laboratory-grown hamburger. I was interested in tissue engineering, and one thing led to another, and I was working for Mark. When that project was finished, I moved to New York where I joined New Harvest an organization that funds academic research. During my time there I met a lot of interesting people that had amazing breakthrough technology from human medicine and I started thinking ‘what does the field need? How can we use technology that is already out there?’
Krijn De Nood: “What’s so special about the technology is that it allows us to use a new cell type which is called a pluripotent stem cell. There’s a couple advantages of those cells that we think have big implications if you look at the economics of making clean meat, which is still one of the biggest barriers to get it to a competitive price with traditional meat.
So, a couple things, one, the cell type proliferates indefinitely so they don’t stop dividing essentially. They don’t need to go back to the animals, which is big to us. Second, the cells have been shown to grow without fetal bovine serum, which is a blood product that is very expensive and it’s completely unacceptable when you think of the idea of clean meat and we don’t need that.
Third, they have a very high proliferation speed. That basically means, versus other cells, you almost have two times as much proliferation which means the same amount of time with the same amount bioreactor size. So, you can produce more meat which will drive the cost down.
M+P: Can you explain the pluripotent stem cell in detail. How are you going to go from a pluripotent cell to a burger?
Luining: Imagine that you have two big tanks, but inside of each tank there are cells. One tank will have very potent cells that will turn into muscle cells and the other tank will have fat cells.
In that stage we are using stem cell characteristics to grow them as fast and as large as possible. Once we reach a certain cell density we are harvesting the cells which means we are separating them from the growth medium and mixing them together in a ratio that we can make fatter meat or leaner meat, but the cell ratio really depends how fat or lean the meat will become.
And then from there we will stimulate the cells, which is a technology we’ve developed where we can stimulate the cells to become adult cell or the muscle or fat cells. And we are doing this in an environment that allows them to actually contract and fuse together like real muscle cells.
M+P: In a previous interview you said you use umbilical cord cells to start the process for your cell-based meat. Is that something that has to be repeated or done one time?
De Nood: That is the beauty of what we are trying to do. That’s why we are using umbilical cords. Basically, when the cow gives birth, we wait until the umbilical cord detaches from the calf and then we just stick a syringe in the artery and vein in the umbilical cord that’s still in there. This is also done for humans. People store their umbilical cord cells for transportation in case they have other blood cell diseases.
From that cell, since it’s an early stage, they are very potent, and we can make them behave even younger. So, we are rejuvenating them. These cells can grow indefinitely. We basically have to do this one more time and if we get the best cells from there, then we can really feed the world with this single cell we took from the umbilical cord. So, if we do it once we can go on forever.
M+P: How does the medical community feel about this product compared to research being done with human stem cells? Maybe take this one out. RM
De Nood: First, we are not using embryonic stem cells which is a big part of the controversy.
Second, stem cells are sort of a vague term. You also have muscle stem cells for example and those are stem cells that can only become muscle.
It’s a whole scale from your embryotic stem cell to you muscle stem cell. It’s a vague area and we are absolutely not using embryotic stem cells. That’s why there shouldn’t be any controversy here.
M+P: What is the timetable for mass production when you get past the initial stages?
De Nood: After three years we think we will present the first burger and that’s a burger like Daan already mentioned that is produced in a miniature environment. All these different components can be scaled up pretty fast. We are already using a bioreactor system for example that’s sort of the “beer brewing” that we use to proliferate the cells in. We are currently using a very small one, but that can be scaled up quite nicely.
That’s in the first three years and we expect somewhere in year four we can start the first commercial production. You shouldn’t think of hundreds or thousands of kilos, that’s more a couple of kilos that we use for marketing purposes to get the consumer aware and comfortable with the product.
Then in year five or six that’s sort of the real scale where we will have select sales, but really significant revenues and then year seven or eight it’s something that we could see in supermarkets.
M+P: Do you see other meat alternatives as your competition even if they are not cell-based meat?
De Nood: You can see them as competition, but we are all working toward the same cause. We are trying to find alternatives for meat that are less polluted to the world. We don’t see them as competition.
Second, I think the market is so huge I think there will be a place for everyone and to combat the challenge we need everything. We need people to reduce meat, we need plant-based alternatives and we need cell-based meat. We think there’s a place for everyone.
And third, we believe in the end, the product we will be selling on a molecular level is meat. It’s real meat where the plant-based alternatives will always be a substitute for meat.
M+P: What should traditional meat processors understand about your company? Should they be concerned or are you looking to coexist with what they are doing?
De Nood: I think it’s more coexistence. I think you already see that with some of the companies that have meat producers and distribution players that are their investors. I think It’s really more of how we coexist. How we sort of see it is hopefully once we get a significant chunk of the market the farmers can go back to a little bit smaller scale farming. We believe there’s always going to be a demand for real meat. It’s more that the farmers can go at a little bit smaller scale and with more love for the animal and love for the environment.
M+P: Looking ahead to next year or so, what stage will your company be in its growth?
De Nood: Most of the developments and technologies from the field are coming from the medical side and basically, we will be transferring it to bovine cells. Essentially, what we will be working on is stabilizing the cell lines, to have the best muscle cell lines and best fat cell lines. That’s what we will be doing in the next 12 to 18 months.