Honey without bees & milk without cows: the 30+ synthetic biology startups reimagining food as we know it

Honey without bees & milk without cows: the 30+ synthetic biology startups reimagining food as we know it

By
Louise Burfitt
May 11, 2021

🍽️ What is it?

  • Delicious sweet honey, no bees required? A cold glass of milk with a chocolate chip cookie, without the involvement of a cow or a cacao tree? Welcome to the brave new world of synthetic biology.
  • So what is it? Food produced via synthetic biology (or SynBio as the cool kids call it) is, in a nutshell, a form of genetic engineering that sees life created from nothing, generally in a laboratory setting. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • The process differs, depending on what the food scientists are trying to create. But, as a general rule, synthetic biologists will pinpoint the genetic codes that make - say - milk taste so creamy, or that cause cheese to melt when heat is applied. Often, this ‘je ne sai quois’ is a protein or enzyme.
  • Once scientists have figured out this special ingredient, it can be recreated in the lab. It is then added to yeast, microbial or bacterial cells. Thanks to the process of fermentation, these spring into life and replicate the protein or enzyme - a bit like how yeast is used to make beer. The yeast or bacterial cells act like factories in miniature, allowing mass reproduction of the protein in question. 

💡How did it start? 

  • Synthetic biology wasn’t originally designed to make food. It began as a way to mass-produce medicines and biofuels, but over time it’s been looked at with new eyes as a way to make food and fibres. Its applications are hugely varied, from the Impossible Burger made with synthetic heme, to the flavours and fragrances used in food and cosmetics, to... spider-free silk
  • The concept of using bacteria or microbes as factories sprang into life in 1978, when a company called Genentech used the same process to produce insulin for diabetics. Biotechnology behemoth Pfizer then applied similar tech to food: to mass-produce renin, a synthetic version of rennet, to make cheese.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Synthetically produced food is gaining traction as interest in sustainability grows. At least 1 in 5 millennials have changed their diet due to worries about the impact of food on the planet. Lab-grown, mass-produced food could hold the answer to such big questions facing the world as food security, feeding a growing population and ending the devastating ecological problems associated with factory farming. 
  • The technology is also becoming ever more advanced and sophisticated - and as this happens, the number of traditional foods that can be effectively replicated in a lab is growing. 
  • Cellular agriculture, as synthetic biology can be known, is also kinder to animals as well as the planet. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Probably the most well-known synthetically produced food product? Cultivated meat. The global cultured meat market is already worth $72.6 million and is expected to grow to $291.4 million by 2027. As well as the well-known players, a raft of companies are working on specific proteins within animal meat to make animal-free substitutes taste even better. 
  • Fybraworks, for example, is developing animal-free muscle protein, and Botany AI is working on its version of real meat proteins to ensure sustainable supply of cell-based meat products. Vow, meanwhile, is branching out from burgers with kangaroo, alpaca and water buffalo meat grown in the lab.
  • Animal-free dairy is a large and ascendant field within the SynBio sector. Companies in this space include Better Dairy in the UK, Change Foods down under, Formo in Berlin, Imagindairy Ltd. in Israel and Perfect Day in the USA - to name just a few. 
  • Many companies are working on the proteins and enzymes specifically, rather than end products, and therefore following a B2B ingredients model. After the success of their synthetic coffee product, designed to be less bitter than your usual cup of joe, Afineur are working on a fermented vegan protein. Spira Inc. and michroma, for example, are both making colourants for food. Spira is based in the US and uses microalgae to do so, while michroma was founded in Argentina and uses fungi. Other startups, like Nourish Ingredients and Farmsow are working on cell-based proteins for fats and oils, a growing category we just covered the other week
  • Similarly, flavours and fragrances are a big opening in the SynBio field. Evolva are making synthetic vanillin using fermentation, for example, and the big name flavour companies are getting in on the action too. 
  • California accelerator, IndieBio, has been helping to launch many of the latest SynBio-based businesses with their current batch including Lypid (alt-fats), California Cultured (cultured cacao) and more.
View the database of 34 SynBio companies here

👀 Who? (34 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

  • Synthetic biology companies received $7.8 billion in private and public financing last year. 

💰 The Funds 

The MeliBio Founders - Aaron Schaller and Darko Mandich

 🐝 Case study: MeliBio 

  • MeliBio is a startup based in San Francisco founded in 2020 aiming to make honey, without the bees. The company’s vision is to bring synthetic honey to communities across the globe, removing the negative consequences of traditional honey production.
  • Co-founder Darko Mandich says they decided to focus on honey for the following reasons: ‘Honey is the most amazing food that ever existed. Found in Egyptian pyramids, thousands of years old, it was still perfectly edible thanks to its amazing composition. However, the way this superfood is produced is damaging to our planet. Commercial beekeeping focuses on one bee species - honeybees and they are invasive towards 20,000 different wild and native bees. Losing our wild and native bees, we would end up having a planet that looks like Mars. Most of the flora and fauna would be lost.’
  • In March this year, the company announced $850,000 in pre-seed funding.
  • The synthetic honey is made using a proprietary technology based on synthetic biology, precision fermentation, and plant science.
  • MeliBio will launch their first product at the end of this year, with 16 companies from 3 continents having already agreed to purchase the bee-free honey to use in their products. 
  • Mandich says that the company is also looking into launching our product in the foodservice market: ‘The volumes will be limited this year, however with a larger production scale expected in 2022, we will be ready to deliver significant volumes of the world's first real honey produced without bees.’
  • In the longer term, MeliBio wants to lead the creation of the future food industry that is better for humans and better for the planet. The way we eat today is a vote for the future we want to have tomorrow. ‘We believe that using science to produce animal products without animals we can empower consumers to make great decisions,’ said Mandich.

🦘 Case study: Vow

  • Australian synthetic meat startup Vow makes all sorts of cultured meat, from the conventional to the more exotic (think kangaroo and water buffalo!). 
  • Two years ago Vow debuted its cultivated kangaroo meat and its range now spans 11 different animal species, including chicken, pigs and alpaca. 
  • Its scientists create real meat from cells, meaning no animals are harmed in the process. From test tube to plate, the startup says the whole process takes just six weeks, making it a real alternative to conventional meat.
  • The main motivations for the company’s founding were providing an ethical, sustainable alternative to mass-produced animal products. The focus on less traditional animals is part of this, and its synthetic meat has a fraction of the carbon footprint of ‘real’ meat.
  • Earlier this year, the Sydney startup announced $6 million in seed funding to further develop its alt meat offering. Founder and COO Tim Noakesmith said: ‘The global meat industry is massive (and continues to grow at an alarming rate) so investors see an opportunity to partner with Vow because we're working on solving a really important global problem, in a pretty unique way with huge returns on offer.’
  • In 2019, Vow unveiled the world’s first cultured kangaroo meat, becoming the first company in the world to grow a food product from the cells of a non-domesticated animal. Since then, Vow has expanded its portfolio to include 11 different species, specializing primarily in exotic animal meats.
  • Vow envisions a future where customers don't care about the source animal of their meat and protein, choosing instead to purchase based on a product's eating experience and their functional benefits. ‘Exotic animals are the first chapter on that journey, proving that we can have new and exciting food experiences by breaking past the restrictions of an old farmed-animal-derived meat system. Beyond this, we will shift our focus to how cellular agriculture can deliver functional properties like fortified nutritional profiles and nutraceutical benefits ultimately turning our attention to reducing costs to service billions of customers with delicious, nutritious, and affordable protein (that's sustainable for generations to come),’ said Noakesmith. 
  • In the next ten years, Vow hopes to have many different branded products in markets all over the world serving millions of customers, leading to the promise of an improved food system powered by cellular agriculture. 

👍The good

  • A major benefit of synthetic biology? Improving the way we produce food for future generations. Done right, it will be better for the environment and for animals - and for people, given the burgeoning field of adding functional nutritional ingredients or properties to food in the lab. 
  • Synthetic biology is also great for food security and could go a long way, if given the investment needed and made more widely available, to end global hunger. And that’s without all the drawbacks of traditional farming.
  • Cell-based foods made in the lab mean more choices for consumers. Millennials and Gen-Z-ers have been found to be particularly open to trying cell-based foods, driven by concerns around sustainability and health.
  • Studies suggest that cell-based foods will eventually be cheaper and higher quality than animal-derived foods. Mass production in a lab allows for better quality control and cost efficiencies. 

👎 The bad

  • Many SynBio startups are still in the early stages of their existence - and only time will tell if they’ll be able to scale up effectively and win acceptance (and sales) from businesses and consumers. 
  • One of the major criticisms of synthetic biology? The lack of transparency surrounding the scientific processes used and the supply chains involved. Conscious consumers may not accept this lack of information, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. 
  • Lastly, if synthetic biology really is the future of food, what about the farmers who rely on agriculture as a livelihood? Indingenous farmers producing vanilla, oils and other niche ingredients will likely be most intensely and quickly affected if synthetic equivalents replace the natural versions of these products.

💡The bottom line

  • If SynBio food products can overcome the challenges detailed above, there could be no stopping cellular agriculture. Pros of this technology like a solution to food security and an end to global hunger seem too good to be true. 
  • But startups in the field will have to prove they can scale up, address consumer concerns and get serious about transparency to truly succeed.
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🍽️ What is it?

  • Delicious sweet honey, no bees required? A cold glass of milk with a chocolate chip cookie, without the involvement of a cow or a cacao tree? Welcome to the brave new world of synthetic biology.
  • So what is it? Food produced via synthetic biology (or SynBio as the cool kids call it) is, in a nutshell, a form of genetic engineering that sees life created from nothing, generally in a laboratory setting. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • The process differs, depending on what the food scientists are trying to create. But, as a general rule, synthetic biologists will pinpoint the genetic codes that make - say - milk taste so creamy, or that cause cheese to melt when heat is applied. Often, this ‘je ne sai quois’ is a protein or enzyme.
  • Once scientists have figured out this special ingredient, it can be recreated in the lab. It is then added to yeast, microbial or bacterial cells. Thanks to the process of fermentation, these spring into life and replicate the protein or enzyme - a bit like how yeast is used to make beer. The yeast or bacterial cells act like factories in miniature, allowing mass reproduction of the protein in question. 

💡How did it start? 

  • Synthetic biology wasn’t originally designed to make food. It began as a way to mass-produce medicines and biofuels, but over time it’s been looked at with new eyes as a way to make food and fibres. Its applications are hugely varied, from the Impossible Burger made with synthetic heme, to the flavours and fragrances used in food and cosmetics, to... spider-free silk
  • The concept of using bacteria or microbes as factories sprang into life in 1978, when a company called Genentech used the same process to produce insulin for diabetics. Biotechnology behemoth Pfizer then applied similar tech to food: to mass-produce renin, a synthetic version of rennet, to make cheese.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Synthetically produced food is gaining traction as interest in sustainability grows. At least 1 in 5 millennials have changed their diet due to worries about the impact of food on the planet. Lab-grown, mass-produced food could hold the answer to such big questions facing the world as food security, feeding a growing population and ending the devastating ecological problems associated with factory farming. 
  • The technology is also becoming ever more advanced and sophisticated - and as this happens, the number of traditional foods that can be effectively replicated in a lab is growing. 
  • Cellular agriculture, as synthetic biology can be known, is also kinder to animals as well as the planet. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Probably the most well-known synthetically produced food product? Cultivated meat. The global cultured meat market is already worth $72.6 million and is expected to grow to $291.4 million by 2027. As well as the well-known players, a raft of companies are working on specific proteins within animal meat to make animal-free substitutes taste even better. 
  • Fybraworks, for example, is developing animal-free muscle protein, and Botany AI is working on its version of real meat proteins to ensure sustainable supply of cell-based meat products. Vow, meanwhile, is branching out from burgers with kangaroo, alpaca and water buffalo meat grown in the lab.
  • Animal-free dairy is a large and ascendant field within the SynBio sector. Companies in this space include Better Dairy in the UK, Change Foods down under, Formo in Berlin, Imagindairy Ltd. in Israel and Perfect Day in the USA - to name just a few. 
  • Many companies are working on the proteins and enzymes specifically, rather than end products, and therefore following a B2B ingredients model. After the success of their synthetic coffee product, designed to be less bitter than your usual cup of joe, Afineur are working on a fermented vegan protein. Spira Inc. and michroma, for example, are both making colourants for food. Spira is based in the US and uses microalgae to do so, while michroma was founded in Argentina and uses fungi. Other startups, like Nourish Ingredients and Farmsow are working on cell-based proteins for fats and oils, a growing category we just covered the other week
  • Similarly, flavours and fragrances are a big opening in the SynBio field. Evolva are making synthetic vanillin using fermentation, for example, and the big name flavour companies are getting in on the action too. 
  • California accelerator, IndieBio, has been helping to launch many of the latest SynBio-based businesses with their current batch including Lypid (alt-fats), California Cultured (cultured cacao) and more.
View the database of 34 SynBio companies here

👀 Who? (34 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

  • Synthetic biology companies received $7.8 billion in private and public financing last year. 

💰 The Funds 

The MeliBio Founders - Aaron Schaller and Darko Mandich

 🐝 Case study: MeliBio 

  • MeliBio is a startup based in San Francisco founded in 2020 aiming to make honey, without the bees. The company’s vision is to bring synthetic honey to communities across the globe, removing the negative consequences of traditional honey production.
  • Co-founder Darko Mandich says they decided to focus on honey for the following reasons: ‘Honey is the most amazing food that ever existed. Found in Egyptian pyramids, thousands of years old, it was still perfectly edible thanks to its amazing composition. However, the way this superfood is produced is damaging to our planet. Commercial beekeeping focuses on one bee species - honeybees and they are invasive towards 20,000 different wild and native bees. Losing our wild and native bees, we would end up having a planet that looks like Mars. Most of the flora and fauna would be lost.’
  • In March this year, the company announced $850,000 in pre-seed funding.
  • The synthetic honey is made using a proprietary technology based on synthetic biology, precision fermentation, and plant science.
  • MeliBio will launch their first product at the end of this year, with 16 companies from 3 continents having already agreed to purchase the bee-free honey to use in their products. 
  • Mandich says that the company is also looking into launching our product in the foodservice market: ‘The volumes will be limited this year, however with a larger production scale expected in 2022, we will be ready to deliver significant volumes of the world's first real honey produced without bees.’
  • In the longer term, MeliBio wants to lead the creation of the future food industry that is better for humans and better for the planet. The way we eat today is a vote for the future we want to have tomorrow. ‘We believe that using science to produce animal products without animals we can empower consumers to make great decisions,’ said Mandich.

🦘 Case study: Vow

  • Australian synthetic meat startup Vow makes all sorts of cultured meat, from the conventional to the more exotic (think kangaroo and water buffalo!). 
  • Two years ago Vow debuted its cultivated kangaroo meat and its range now spans 11 different animal species, including chicken, pigs and alpaca. 
  • Its scientists create real meat from cells, meaning no animals are harmed in the process. From test tube to plate, the startup says the whole process takes just six weeks, making it a real alternative to conventional meat.
  • The main motivations for the company’s founding were providing an ethical, sustainable alternative to mass-produced animal products. The focus on less traditional animals is part of this, and its synthetic meat has a fraction of the carbon footprint of ‘real’ meat.
  • Earlier this year, the Sydney startup announced $6 million in seed funding to further develop its alt meat offering. Founder and COO Tim Noakesmith said: ‘The global meat industry is massive (and continues to grow at an alarming rate) so investors see an opportunity to partner with Vow because we're working on solving a really important global problem, in a pretty unique way with huge returns on offer.’
  • In 2019, Vow unveiled the world’s first cultured kangaroo meat, becoming the first company in the world to grow a food product from the cells of a non-domesticated animal. Since then, Vow has expanded its portfolio to include 11 different species, specializing primarily in exotic animal meats.
  • Vow envisions a future where customers don't care about the source animal of their meat and protein, choosing instead to purchase based on a product's eating experience and their functional benefits. ‘Exotic animals are the first chapter on that journey, proving that we can have new and exciting food experiences by breaking past the restrictions of an old farmed-animal-derived meat system. Beyond this, we will shift our focus to how cellular agriculture can deliver functional properties like fortified nutritional profiles and nutraceutical benefits ultimately turning our attention to reducing costs to service billions of customers with delicious, nutritious, and affordable protein (that's sustainable for generations to come),’ said Noakesmith. 
  • In the next ten years, Vow hopes to have many different branded products in markets all over the world serving millions of customers, leading to the promise of an improved food system powered by cellular agriculture. 

👍The good

  • A major benefit of synthetic biology? Improving the way we produce food for future generations. Done right, it will be better for the environment and for animals - and for people, given the burgeoning field of adding functional nutritional ingredients or properties to food in the lab. 
  • Synthetic biology is also great for food security and could go a long way, if given the investment needed and made more widely available, to end global hunger. And that’s without all the drawbacks of traditional farming.
  • Cell-based foods made in the lab mean more choices for consumers. Millennials and Gen-Z-ers have been found to be particularly open to trying cell-based foods, driven by concerns around sustainability and health.
  • Studies suggest that cell-based foods will eventually be cheaper and higher quality than animal-derived foods. Mass production in a lab allows for better quality control and cost efficiencies. 

👎 The bad

  • Many SynBio startups are still in the early stages of their existence - and only time will tell if they’ll be able to scale up effectively and win acceptance (and sales) from businesses and consumers. 
  • One of the major criticisms of synthetic biology? The lack of transparency surrounding the scientific processes used and the supply chains involved. Conscious consumers may not accept this lack of information, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. 
  • Lastly, if synthetic biology really is the future of food, what about the farmers who rely on agriculture as a livelihood? Indingenous farmers producing vanilla, oils and other niche ingredients will likely be most intensely and quickly affected if synthetic equivalents replace the natural versions of these products.

💡The bottom line

  • If SynBio food products can overcome the challenges detailed above, there could be no stopping cellular agriculture. Pros of this technology like a solution to food security and an end to global hunger seem too good to be true. 
  • But startups in the field will have to prove they can scale up, address consumer concerns and get serious about transparency to truly succeed.

🍽️ What is it?

  • Delicious sweet honey, no bees required? A cold glass of milk with a chocolate chip cookie, without the involvement of a cow or a cacao tree? Welcome to the brave new world of synthetic biology.
  • So what is it? Food produced via synthetic biology (or SynBio as the cool kids call it) is, in a nutshell, a form of genetic engineering that sees life created from nothing, generally in a laboratory setting. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • The process differs, depending on what the food scientists are trying to create. But, as a general rule, synthetic biologists will pinpoint the genetic codes that make - say - milk taste so creamy, or that cause cheese to melt when heat is applied. Often, this ‘je ne sai quois’ is a protein or enzyme.
  • Once scientists have figured out this special ingredient, it can be recreated in the lab. It is then added to yeast, microbial or bacterial cells. Thanks to the process of fermentation, these spring into life and replicate the protein or enzyme - a bit like how yeast is used to make beer. The yeast or bacterial cells act like factories in miniature, allowing mass reproduction of the protein in question. 

💡How did it start? 

  • Synthetic biology wasn’t originally designed to make food. It began as a way to mass-produce medicines and biofuels, but over time it’s been looked at with new eyes as a way to make food and fibres. Its applications are hugely varied, from the Impossible Burger made with synthetic heme, to the flavours and fragrances used in food and cosmetics, to... spider-free silk
  • The concept of using bacteria or microbes as factories sprang into life in 1978, when a company called Genentech used the same process to produce insulin for diabetics. Biotechnology behemoth Pfizer then applied similar tech to food: to mass-produce renin, a synthetic version of rennet, to make cheese.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Synthetically produced food is gaining traction as interest in sustainability grows. At least 1 in 5 millennials have changed their diet due to worries about the impact of food on the planet. Lab-grown, mass-produced food could hold the answer to such big questions facing the world as food security, feeding a growing population and ending the devastating ecological problems associated with factory farming. 
  • The technology is also becoming ever more advanced and sophisticated - and as this happens, the number of traditional foods that can be effectively replicated in a lab is growing. 
  • Cellular agriculture, as synthetic biology can be known, is also kinder to animals as well as the planet. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Probably the most well-known synthetically produced food product? Cultivated meat. The global cultured meat market is already worth $72.6 million and is expected to grow to $291.4 million by 2027. As well as the well-known players, a raft of companies are working on specific proteins within animal meat to make animal-free substitutes taste even better. 
  • Fybraworks, for example, is developing animal-free muscle protein, and Botany AI is working on its version of real meat proteins to ensure sustainable supply of cell-based meat products. Vow, meanwhile, is branching out from burgers with kangaroo, alpaca and water buffalo meat grown in the lab.
  • Animal-free dairy is a large and ascendant field within the SynBio sector. Companies in this space include Better Dairy in the UK, Change Foods down under, Formo in Berlin, Imagindairy Ltd. in Israel and Perfect Day in the USA - to name just a few. 
  • Many companies are working on the proteins and enzymes specifically, rather than end products, and therefore following a B2B ingredients model. After the success of their synthetic coffee product, designed to be less bitter than your usual cup of joe, Afineur are working on a fermented vegan protein. Spira Inc. and michroma, for example, are both making colourants for food. Spira is based in the US and uses microalgae to do so, while michroma was founded in Argentina and uses fungi. Other startups, like Nourish Ingredients and Farmsow are working on cell-based proteins for fats and oils, a growing category we just covered the other week
  • Similarly, flavours and fragrances are a big opening in the SynBio field. Evolva are making synthetic vanillin using fermentation, for example, and the big name flavour companies are getting in on the action too. 
  • California accelerator, IndieBio, has been helping to launch many of the latest SynBio-based businesses with their current batch including Lypid (alt-fats), California Cultured (cultured cacao) and more.
View the database of 34 SynBio companies here

👀 Who? (34 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

  • Synthetic biology companies received $7.8 billion in private and public financing last year. 

💰 The Funds 

The MeliBio Founders - Aaron Schaller and Darko Mandich

 🐝 Case study: MeliBio 

  • MeliBio is a startup based in San Francisco founded in 2020 aiming to make honey, without the bees. The company’s vision is to bring synthetic honey to communities across the globe, removing the negative consequences of traditional honey production.
  • Co-founder Darko Mandich says they decided to focus on honey for the following reasons: ‘Honey is the most amazing food that ever existed. Found in Egyptian pyramids, thousands of years old, it was still perfectly edible thanks to its amazing composition. However, the way this superfood is produced is damaging to our planet. Commercial beekeeping focuses on one bee species - honeybees and they are invasive towards 20,000 different wild and native bees. Losing our wild and native bees, we would end up having a planet that looks like Mars. Most of the flora and fauna would be lost.’
  • In March this year, the company announced $850,000 in pre-seed funding.
  • The synthetic honey is made using a proprietary technology based on synthetic biology, precision fermentation, and plant science.
  • MeliBio will launch their first product at the end of this year, with 16 companies from 3 continents having already agreed to purchase the bee-free honey to use in their products. 
  • Mandich says that the company is also looking into launching our product in the foodservice market: ‘The volumes will be limited this year, however with a larger production scale expected in 2022, we will be ready to deliver significant volumes of the world's first real honey produced without bees.’
  • In the longer term, MeliBio wants to lead the creation of the future food industry that is better for humans and better for the planet. The way we eat today is a vote for the future we want to have tomorrow. ‘We believe that using science to produce animal products without animals we can empower consumers to make great decisions,’ said Mandich.

🦘 Case study: Vow

  • Australian synthetic meat startup Vow makes all sorts of cultured meat, from the conventional to the more exotic (think kangaroo and water buffalo!). 
  • Two years ago Vow debuted its cultivated kangaroo meat and its range now spans 11 different animal species, including chicken, pigs and alpaca. 
  • Its scientists create real meat from cells, meaning no animals are harmed in the process. From test tube to plate, the startup says the whole process takes just six weeks, making it a real alternative to conventional meat.
  • The main motivations for the company’s founding were providing an ethical, sustainable alternative to mass-produced animal products. The focus on less traditional animals is part of this, and its synthetic meat has a fraction of the carbon footprint of ‘real’ meat.
  • Earlier this year, the Sydney startup announced $6 million in seed funding to further develop its alt meat offering. Founder and COO Tim Noakesmith said: ‘The global meat industry is massive (and continues to grow at an alarming rate) so investors see an opportunity to partner with Vow because we're working on solving a really important global problem, in a pretty unique way with huge returns on offer.’
  • In 2019, Vow unveiled the world’s first cultured kangaroo meat, becoming the first company in the world to grow a food product from the cells of a non-domesticated animal. Since then, Vow has expanded its portfolio to include 11 different species, specializing primarily in exotic animal meats.
  • Vow envisions a future where customers don't care about the source animal of their meat and protein, choosing instead to purchase based on a product's eating experience and their functional benefits. ‘Exotic animals are the first chapter on that journey, proving that we can have new and exciting food experiences by breaking past the restrictions of an old farmed-animal-derived meat system. Beyond this, we will shift our focus to how cellular agriculture can deliver functional properties like fortified nutritional profiles and nutraceutical benefits ultimately turning our attention to reducing costs to service billions of customers with delicious, nutritious, and affordable protein (that's sustainable for generations to come),’ said Noakesmith. 
  • In the next ten years, Vow hopes to have many different branded products in markets all over the world serving millions of customers, leading to the promise of an improved food system powered by cellular agriculture. 

👍The good

  • A major benefit of synthetic biology? Improving the way we produce food for future generations. Done right, it will be better for the environment and for animals - and for people, given the burgeoning field of adding functional nutritional ingredients or properties to food in the lab. 
  • Synthetic biology is also great for food security and could go a long way, if given the investment needed and made more widely available, to end global hunger. And that’s without all the drawbacks of traditional farming.
  • Cell-based foods made in the lab mean more choices for consumers. Millennials and Gen-Z-ers have been found to be particularly open to trying cell-based foods, driven by concerns around sustainability and health.
  • Studies suggest that cell-based foods will eventually be cheaper and higher quality than animal-derived foods. Mass production in a lab allows for better quality control and cost efficiencies. 

👎 The bad

  • Many SynBio startups are still in the early stages of their existence - and only time will tell if they’ll be able to scale up effectively and win acceptance (and sales) from businesses and consumers. 
  • One of the major criticisms of synthetic biology? The lack of transparency surrounding the scientific processes used and the supply chains involved. Conscious consumers may not accept this lack of information, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. 
  • Lastly, if synthetic biology really is the future of food, what about the farmers who rely on agriculture as a livelihood? Indingenous farmers producing vanilla, oils and other niche ingredients will likely be most intensely and quickly affected if synthetic equivalents replace the natural versions of these products.

💡The bottom line

  • If SynBio food products can overcome the challenges detailed above, there could be no stopping cellular agriculture. Pros of this technology like a solution to food security and an end to global hunger seem too good to be true. 
  • But startups in the field will have to prove they can scale up, address consumer concerns and get serious about transparency to truly succeed.

🍽️ What is it?

  • Delicious sweet honey, no bees required? A cold glass of milk with a chocolate chip cookie, without the involvement of a cow or a cacao tree? Welcome to the brave new world of synthetic biology.
  • So what is it? Food produced via synthetic biology (or SynBio as the cool kids call it) is, in a nutshell, a form of genetic engineering that sees life created from nothing, generally in a laboratory setting. 

🤔 Tell me more…

  • The process differs, depending on what the food scientists are trying to create. But, as a general rule, synthetic biologists will pinpoint the genetic codes that make - say - milk taste so creamy, or that cause cheese to melt when heat is applied. Often, this ‘je ne sai quois’ is a protein or enzyme.
  • Once scientists have figured out this special ingredient, it can be recreated in the lab. It is then added to yeast, microbial or bacterial cells. Thanks to the process of fermentation, these spring into life and replicate the protein or enzyme - a bit like how yeast is used to make beer. The yeast or bacterial cells act like factories in miniature, allowing mass reproduction of the protein in question. 

💡How did it start? 

  • Synthetic biology wasn’t originally designed to make food. It began as a way to mass-produce medicines and biofuels, but over time it’s been looked at with new eyes as a way to make food and fibres. Its applications are hugely varied, from the Impossible Burger made with synthetic heme, to the flavours and fragrances used in food and cosmetics, to... spider-free silk
  • The concept of using bacteria or microbes as factories sprang into life in 1978, when a company called Genentech used the same process to produce insulin for diabetics. Biotechnology behemoth Pfizer then applied similar tech to food: to mass-produce renin, a synthetic version of rennet, to make cheese.

🤷‍♂️ Why?

  • Synthetically produced food is gaining traction as interest in sustainability grows. At least 1 in 5 millennials have changed their diet due to worries about the impact of food on the planet. Lab-grown, mass-produced food could hold the answer to such big questions facing the world as food security, feeding a growing population and ending the devastating ecological problems associated with factory farming. 
  • The technology is also becoming ever more advanced and sophisticated - and as this happens, the number of traditional foods that can be effectively replicated in a lab is growing. 
  • Cellular agriculture, as synthetic biology can be known, is also kinder to animals as well as the planet. 

🔍 How is it shaping up?

  • Probably the most well-known synthetically produced food product? Cultivated meat. The global cultured meat market is already worth $72.6 million and is expected to grow to $291.4 million by 2027. As well as the well-known players, a raft of companies are working on specific proteins within animal meat to make animal-free substitutes taste even better. 
  • Fybraworks, for example, is developing animal-free muscle protein, and Botany AI is working on its version of real meat proteins to ensure sustainable supply of cell-based meat products. Vow, meanwhile, is branching out from burgers with kangaroo, alpaca and water buffalo meat grown in the lab.
  • Animal-free dairy is a large and ascendant field within the SynBio sector. Companies in this space include Better Dairy in the UK, Change Foods down under, Formo in Berlin, Imagindairy Ltd. in Israel and Perfect Day in the USA - to name just a few. 
  • Many companies are working on the proteins and enzymes specifically, rather than end products, and therefore following a B2B ingredients model. After the success of their synthetic coffee product, designed to be less bitter than your usual cup of joe, Afineur are working on a fermented vegan protein. Spira Inc. and michroma, for example, are both making colourants for food. Spira is based in the US and uses microalgae to do so, while michroma was founded in Argentina and uses fungi. Other startups, like Nourish Ingredients and Farmsow are working on cell-based proteins for fats and oils, a growing category we just covered the other week
  • Similarly, flavours and fragrances are a big opening in the SynBio field. Evolva are making synthetic vanillin using fermentation, for example, and the big name flavour companies are getting in on the action too. 
  • California accelerator, IndieBio, has been helping to launch many of the latest SynBio-based businesses with their current batch including Lypid (alt-fats), California Cultured (cultured cacao) and more.
View the database of 34 SynBio companies here

👀 Who? (34 companies in this space)

📈 The figures

  • Synthetic biology companies received $7.8 billion in private and public financing last year. 

💰 The Funds 

The MeliBio Founders - Aaron Schaller and Darko Mandich

 🐝 Case study: MeliBio 

  • MeliBio is a startup based in San Francisco founded in 2020 aiming to make honey, without the bees. The company’s vision is to bring synthetic honey to communities across the globe, removing the negative consequences of traditional honey production.
  • Co-founder Darko Mandich says they decided to focus on honey for the following reasons: ‘Honey is the most amazing food that ever existed. Found in Egyptian pyramids, thousands of years old, it was still perfectly edible thanks to its amazing composition. However, the way this superfood is produced is damaging to our planet. Commercial beekeeping focuses on one bee species - honeybees and they are invasive towards 20,000 different wild and native bees. Losing our wild and native bees, we would end up having a planet that looks like Mars. Most of the flora and fauna would be lost.’
  • In March this year, the company announced $850,000 in pre-seed funding.
  • The synthetic honey is made using a proprietary technology based on synthetic biology, precision fermentation, and plant science.
  • MeliBio will launch their first product at the end of this year, with 16 companies from 3 continents having already agreed to purchase the bee-free honey to use in their products. 
  • Mandich says that the company is also looking into launching our product in the foodservice market: ‘The volumes will be limited this year, however with a larger production scale expected in 2022, we will be ready to deliver significant volumes of the world's first real honey produced without bees.’
  • In the longer term, MeliBio wants to lead the creation of the future food industry that is better for humans and better for the planet. The way we eat today is a vote for the future we want to have tomorrow. ‘We believe that using science to produce animal products without animals we can empower consumers to make great decisions,’ said Mandich.

🦘 Case study: Vow

  • Australian synthetic meat startup Vow makes all sorts of cultured meat, from the conventional to the more exotic (think kangaroo and water buffalo!). 
  • Two years ago Vow debuted its cultivated kangaroo meat and its range now spans 11 different animal species, including chicken, pigs and alpaca. 
  • Its scientists create real meat from cells, meaning no animals are harmed in the process. From test tube to plate, the startup says the whole process takes just six weeks, making it a real alternative to conventional meat.
  • The main motivations for the company’s founding were providing an ethical, sustainable alternative to mass-produced animal products. The focus on less traditional animals is part of this, and its synthetic meat has a fraction of the carbon footprint of ‘real’ meat.
  • Earlier this year, the Sydney startup announced $6 million in seed funding to further develop its alt meat offering. Founder and COO Tim Noakesmith said: ‘The global meat industry is massive (and continues to grow at an alarming rate) so investors see an opportunity to partner with Vow because we're working on solving a really important global problem, in a pretty unique way with huge returns on offer.’
  • In 2019, Vow unveiled the world’s first cultured kangaroo meat, becoming the first company in the world to grow a food product from the cells of a non-domesticated animal. Since then, Vow has expanded its portfolio to include 11 different species, specializing primarily in exotic animal meats.
  • Vow envisions a future where customers don't care about the source animal of their meat and protein, choosing instead to purchase based on a product's eating experience and their functional benefits. ‘Exotic animals are the first chapter on that journey, proving that we can have new and exciting food experiences by breaking past the restrictions of an old farmed-animal-derived meat system. Beyond this, we will shift our focus to how cellular agriculture can deliver functional properties like fortified nutritional profiles and nutraceutical benefits ultimately turning our attention to reducing costs to service billions of customers with delicious, nutritious, and affordable protein (that's sustainable for generations to come),’ said Noakesmith. 
  • In the next ten years, Vow hopes to have many different branded products in markets all over the world serving millions of customers, leading to the promise of an improved food system powered by cellular agriculture. 

👍The good

  • A major benefit of synthetic biology? Improving the way we produce food for future generations. Done right, it will be better for the environment and for animals - and for people, given the burgeoning field of adding functional nutritional ingredients or properties to food in the lab. 
  • Synthetic biology is also great for food security and could go a long way, if given the investment needed and made more widely available, to end global hunger. And that’s without all the drawbacks of traditional farming.
  • Cell-based foods made in the lab mean more choices for consumers. Millennials and Gen-Z-ers have been found to be particularly open to trying cell-based foods, driven by concerns around sustainability and health.
  • Studies suggest that cell-based foods will eventually be cheaper and higher quality than animal-derived foods. Mass production in a lab allows for better quality control and cost efficiencies. 

👎 The bad

  • Many SynBio startups are still in the early stages of their existence - and only time will tell if they’ll be able to scale up effectively and win acceptance (and sales) from businesses and consumers. 
  • One of the major criticisms of synthetic biology? The lack of transparency surrounding the scientific processes used and the supply chains involved. Conscious consumers may not accept this lack of information, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. 
  • Lastly, if synthetic biology really is the future of food, what about the farmers who rely on agriculture as a livelihood? Indingenous farmers producing vanilla, oils and other niche ingredients will likely be most intensely and quickly affected if synthetic equivalents replace the natural versions of these products.

💡The bottom line

  • If SynBio food products can overcome the challenges detailed above, there could be no stopping cellular agriculture. Pros of this technology like a solution to food security and an end to global hunger seem too good to be true. 
  • But startups in the field will have to prove they can scale up, address consumer concerns and get serious about transparency to truly succeed.
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