Food tech startup BioBetter has developed a novel way to create growth factors for cell-cultivated meat utilizing tobacco plants.
Based in Kiryat Shemona, Israel, the company announced today that it has developed a method to create growth factors via molecular farming techniques by essentially turning the tobacco plant into a bioreactor. BioBetter’s technology employs plant cells to produce growth factors instead of more traditional techniques which utilize yeast, bacteria, or CHO in a bioreactor to produce growth factors.
The company’s technology involves identifying the gene of the target protein, cloning it, and transferring it into the tobacco plant. They then select the highest-yielding plants, breed them to develop higher yields, and then ultimately grow and harvest the plants.
As the tobacco plants mature, their cells express the growth factors and store them until harvest. The company then uses a proprietary protein extraction and purification technology that enables it to exploit nearly the entire plant, producing a high purity product at lower overall costs.
Growth medium is widely recognized in the cell-cultured meat industry as one of the nascent sector’s biggest cost drivers. According to a survey conducted by the Good Food Institute in 2020, growth media made up 80% or more of the total operating cost for 38% of those cell-cultured meat manufacturers who responded, while 72% of respondents indicated that growth media made up half or more of their total operating costs.
“There are multiple advantages to using Nicotiana tabacum as a hardy vector for producing GFs of non-animal origin,” Amit Yaari, CEO of BioBetter, said. “It is an abundant crop that has no place in the food-and-feed chain due to its extremely bitter taste and content of undesirable alkaloids. The global trend for reducing tobacco smoking also is raising concerns among tobacco growers that the crop might eventually become obsolete. Yet the tobacco plant has huge potential to become a key component in the future of food.”
By utilizing molecular farming techniques to derive growth factors entirely from the tobacco plants, BioBetter enters its name among a new cohort of startups looking to help scale up lower-cost media free of animal inputs. Other startups that have been developing growth medium alternatives free of FBS (fetal bovine serum) include Seawith and Back of the Yards Algae Sciences, both of which are utilizing algae to derive animal-free growth medium, and Biftek , which is using a secretive mix on microorganisms to create its animal-free growth medium. In addition, cultivated meat pioneer Mosa Meat has also been very open about its efforts to develop growth media free of FBS and claims to have achieved an 80x reduction in cost.
“BioBetter is pioneering a novel protein expression platform to address the fast-growing demand for complex recombinant proteins,” Oded Shoseyov said. “Our GF technology will enable production of animal-free GFs at a scale of thousands of tons per year, and at a cost of US$1 per gram. This will alleviate one of the biggest bottlenecks in advancing cultured meat to mass production.”