How lab-grown sushi could help combat overfishing

But that popularity has come at a high cost, and the population of wild North Atlantic salmon has halved between 1983 and 2016. This is symptomatic of a wider problem: about 90% of global marine fish stocks have been exhausted, overfished, or completely exploited. United Nations Research.
One company that is trying to produce fish more sustainably is Wildtype. Salmon, a California-based startup, is making sushi-grade salmon by cultivating cells extracted from eggs.
It raised $100 million in February 2022, with support from actors and environmentalists Leonardo DiCaprio and Jeff Bezos’ investment firm Bezos Expeditions. Now, the company is hoping to bring the farmed fish product to market on a large scale, says Wildtype co-founder Justin Kolbeck.

Wildtype cultivates cells in a nutritional solution in steel vessels similar to fermentation tanks used by breweries. A plant-based mesh known as a “scaffold” is used to help the cells form fibrous or fat-like tissue.

Kolbeck says the idea goes beyond creating the kind of processed-fish alternatives that can already be made with plant proteins. “You can use plants to make mincemeat [style] The products are very easily, but it is really hard to get a perfectly cut product, as you would find in a sushi restaurant. “So that was the challenge we posed for ourselves.”

Not all fish products harm wild fish stocks. Aquaculture, or farmed fish, accounted for nearly half of the 179 million metric tons of global fish production in 2018, but it has drawbacks. Farmed fish are often given antibiotics, which can promote antibiotic resistance, may contain microplastics, and waste from aquaculture can pollute aquatic ecosystems.
Arya Elfenbein, co-founder of WildType and a molecular biologist, says that with cell-cultured fish, “no antibiotics, no heavy metals, no microplastics.” There is no waste, as only the edible parts of the fish are grown, and Wildtype says that it takes only four to six weeks for its product to develop, whereas it takes two to three years to grow mature salmon in aquaculture. is needed.
Wildtype raised $100 million in its latest Series B funding round, which it says will help increase production of farmed salmon.

A drop in the Ocean

Salmon’s popularity makes it a compelling product to find substitutes for, says David Kaplan, a biomedical engineer at Tufts University in Boston who is not affiliated with the wildtype. “It’s a really cool goal because we know that consumers love salmon,” he said, adding that the potential range of products from fish cakes to salmon fillets offers a variety of innovation opportunities. In the long term, it’s not known how farmed fish products will compete with farmed fish on price, Kaplan says — but he anticipates the cost of farmed fish to fall as companies scale. Huh.

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However, before companies like Wildtype can consider the price points, the industry needs regulatory approval. So far, Singapore is the only country that has approved the sale of lab-grown meat. In the US, the FDA grants approval for such products and Kaplan says the first round of regulation is expected later this year.

Kolbeck says he has been working with the FDA for the past two years to establish best practices for the regulation and production of lab-grown foods.

Wildtype’s current pilot plant has only “modest” production capacity, Kolbeck says, but the company is building larger facilities in anticipation of FDA approval. Kolbeck estimates that it will be a decade before industrial-scale production reaches companies like this — and he stresses that it’s not the end-all solution to overwhelm.

Founders Arya Elfenbein (left) and Justin Kolbeck started the company in 2016.

a targeted roll-out

Wildtype isn’t the only Silicon Valley startup in the region that’s raising investments: Bluenaloo raised $60 million last year, while Finless Foods raised $34 million in March. Both have plans to produce cell-cultured bluefin tuna, a fish that was classified as endangered until numbers began to rise over the past decade.

Kate Kruger, a cell biologist and founder and CEO of Helicon Consulting, a consulting firm for innovative food products, says the market for cultured proteins has expanded rapidly over the past five years. Brands like Impossible Foods — which specializes in plant-based burgers and sausages that look, taste, and feel like real meat — have paved the way for consumer acceptance of novel products, she says. Huh.

Kruger says the targeted rollout of Impossible, which began at specialty high-end restaurants before expanding into global burger chains and then supermarkets, is a model that fish products can follow.

But Wildtype’s “structured” sushi-grade fish fillet will vie for acceptance much more often than an “unstructured” minced product like a burger, Krueger says. “People can expect extreme accuracy from these products,” she says. “Structured products are the holy grail in this space.”

one of the wildtype "structured"  salmon fillet product "unstructured"  Experts say that minced products like burgers and sausages.

Kaplan expects the blended products — a blend of plant-based and cell-enhanced proteins — to be the first to hit the market, as they reduce costs while introducing flavor and texture to consumers.

While Wildtype is keen to make its product the first seafood to market, it is also focused on the long-term goal of reducing the burden on fish stocks.

“If we continue on this trajectory, by 2030, we may have no return for a lot of these fish species,” Kolbeck says. “I have some young children and I don’t want to hand over a world that is less biodiversity and less rich than what we have inherited – especially when we have the tools to do something about it.”


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