When you can eat your passion: food meets biotech

Can you imagine tech that goes beyond Facebook, Google, your iPhone and even Tesla? Ever considered biology? After reading this article your new drone seems to be low tech and your noise cancelling headphones, not so cool anymore.

We’re talking about foods and biotechnology, where biology meets technology meets foods; leveraging the capabilities of living cells to produce our future food.

Being a biotechnologist I’ve gone through many discussions during lunches, birthday parties and even après ski bars (can’t recommend to blend alcohol through these discussions) about the good and (mostly) the bad of biotechnology. It often gets linked to “GMO”, mutant tomatoes, bee-killing corn and potatoes that change your own genome into potato DNA when you eat them. You are what you eat?! What? How? That would potentially lead to new tools…! Clearly, a lot of myths out there. Luckily, regulatory instances seem to be catching up, debating for labeling the CRISPR-based genome editing tools as non-GMO, to start with. As in any innovative industry, start-ups lead the way. At Venture IQ, I am active as a technology scout and I can’t help but running into a lot of really impressive startups – here’s my top 5 in foodtech.

1.    Milk without cows

Just like brewing beer, Perfect Day Foods brews milk. By instructing yeasts to produce cow proteins, they ferment sugars into milk proteins. These milk proteins can then be used as ingredient in all kinds or cow-free dairy products. Perfect Day Foods expects to launch their first product this year. Isn’t alcohol a by-product of fermentation and can we next expect high-protein, skimmed, lactose-free, fair-trade chocolate containing Baileys?

2.    Eggs without chickens

Using a similar technology, Clara Foods is working hard to develop chicken-free egg white. Like Perfect Day Foods to make the lives of vegans easier, but also to save water in the production of the egg white and thus lower the footprint. With even better performance than regular egg white we can start dreaming of even fluffier meringues, macarons and chocolate mousses! Not using yeasts as factories, but also impressive, is applying AI to identify plant ingredients with the desired functionalities. The Not Company computed the food formula for plant-based mayonnaise with their machine learning program Giuseppe, whom they say will evolve into the best chef and food scientist in the world.

3.    Vegan gelatin

To continue the animal-free diet journey, gelatin is often the (invisible) bottleneck. Geltormakes these texture-defining molecules for foods, beverages and cosmetics via fermentation. Biotech gummy bears and marshmallows for the win!

4.    Meat without animals

Want to eat meat on meatless Mondays? What if I told you there’s a company that can grow a solid burger from a single chicken feather cell? Mindblowing, I know. JUST (previously Hampton Creek) who previously launched egg-free plant-based mayonnaise, is now planning on the launch of their first chicken meat product end of this year. See how it works in the exciting video of JUST here. And also check out SuperMeatMemphis MeatsMosa Meat and Integriculture for other cultured meat startups.

Fish without fishing

Not in my top 5 simply because I don’t like the taste of fish at all, but still worth mentioning, is fish without fishing. Same as for animal meat, also seafood will become more sustainable not only by high-tech controlled or even indoors fish farms but also by cultured fish cells. Finless Foods is growing fish fillets from just a few cells from living fish.

5.    Plant ingredients without plants

Although there is an impressive amount of companies in plant-based alternatives for milk, eggs and meats, even plants are being substituted by bioreactors. You might ask why that is even necessary; aren’t plants already the most sustainable resource for our foods? For example, valencene, the orange flavor and fragrance molecule, can be extracted from oranges for cosmetics and food products. For 1 kilogram of valencene, 1 million kilograms of oranges are needed. Yeasts can produce just these ingredients very efficiently when they receive the right instructions for the production of these plant components. Isobionics does exactly that. The very early-stage N-Chroma is currently developing the process to produce color additives. Their yeasts will produce for example the red pigments that are currently being extracted from beet-roots. Also cool is Green2Chem that grows plant roots from medicinal plants in a bioreactor. Their technology enables the cultivation of any kind of plant roots, even the difficult to grow, wild-harvested or protected ones. Ginseng supplements without crop farming!

This is just scratching the surface of what’s out there. In the last year, we’ve reviewed many more companies just like these. Venture IQ is a technology scouting software and services company, and we would be very happy to learn more about your innovation and technology scouting need, to see where we could help. Let’s grab a coffee or jump on a call to discuss what we can do for you!