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.
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.
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.
a targeted roll-out
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.”
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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