As of 2020, 8.9% of the world population lives in hunger. Over 690 million people do not have enough food. With a constantly growing world population, this challenge is bound to increase over the next years. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if world population growth continues at the current rate, by 2050 we will need to produce 70% more food than is currently produced. We desperately need to come up with new solutions, as current food production already takes up all the available land and too much water. Another huge problem is meat production. Livestock farming alone is responsible for 18 % of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We need to find new ways to enjoy food without harming the environment and ideally, without harming animals.
The agriculture sector might be perceived as old-fashioned, but it is in fact very open-minded towards technological innovations as they can substantially improve efficiency and drive down costs. With new advancements in robotics, Sensors and IoT, it might turn into a high tech industry over the next years and a lot of processes will be automated with devices like drones, harvesting robots and self-driving tractors.
All the available land is already being used and nutritious soil is limited. If we want to be able to produce enough food for a growing world population, we have to cut down on food production for livestock that currently takes up a major part of land use. For example soy can be replaced with insect meal or yield can be increased by precision farming with robots and gen modification. Also, vertical farming could prove to be a way out. However, we believe that in the foreseeable future vertical farms won’t be able to produce energy dense crops, like wheat or soy, at competitive prices.
Already today, there are many plant-based alternatives to meat available on the market. Traditional meat manufacturers have added vegetarian options to their portfolio and are generating a substantial amount of their yearly turnover in this new sector. However, there are certain limitations within those plant-based alternatives regarding the resemblance of texture and taste of real meat. Lab-grown meat provides a promising solution to this challenge. Though there is still a lot of research to be done in tissue engineering and texture development to grow the perfect steak in a lab, we’ve been seeing a lot of progress in this area and are convinced that a few years down the road, lab-grown meat will become the new standard. That is, once it hits the same price point or becomes even more affordable than traditional meat. Currently, the biggest challenges for lab-grown meat are related to large-scale production, which goes hand in hand with price attractiveness. Especially the costs of the growth factors needed for sustained cell development must be reduced. Researches are looking for cell lines that can produce the growth factors needed for meat or fat cell production. These cell lines shall then be produced at large scale to supply cheap growth factors. Another approach to lowering costs is to look for immortal cell lines - both for growth factor and meat/fat production. Such immortal cell lines do not need to be replaced after a certain amount of proliferations. In addition, many of the current cell lines are adherent, meaning they need some kind of scaffolds to grow at. This obviously makes harvesting the cells more cumbersome. Lastly, scaling bioreactors is also not easy, as cells need continuous exposure to fresh medium. Just stirring the medium in such a reactor is not possible as the cells are very sensitive and can get destroyed by the shear forces created by the stirrer. Given the fact that Mosa Meat has managed to drive down the costs of their cultured burger patty from initially 325,000 dollars to 10 dollars, rapid progress is to be expected in this area. This new emerging market is very promising, and we are constantly looking for outstanding teams to support in this area.
Lab-grown meat is far from being the only product innovation to be entering the market in the next few years. New breakthroughs in biochemistry now allow us to genetically reprogram yeast in order to create new flavors, aromas and even highlight certain features in proteins. For example, we can now generate unique proteins from yeast that are a great substitute for milk proteins such as casein and whey. A startup called perfect day uses this process to create products that are practically identical to traditional milk products, while being lactose-free. The changing needs and behaviors in our world population’s diet suggest that this will be a highly attractive market in the near future. We are confident that thanks to advances in biochemistry and genetic engineering, we will eventually return to a much healthier, more sustainable diet.
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