June 17, 2020
Guest Elliot Swartz, Good Food Institute
Hosted by Jamie Harris, Sentience Institute
Elliot Swartz of the Good Food Institute on the bottlenecks to the scale-up of cultured meat and plant-based meat
“There’s a relatively clear path on dramatically reducing the costs of the cell culture media. So I’d say it's definitely the most pressing bottleneck… not perhaps the most technically involved bottleneck… The recombinant proteins are by far the driving source of those cost contributions where probably anywhere from over 90 to 95% or more of the cost contribution of cell culture media today comes from those recombinant proteins. An independent group at Northwestern University in Chicago came out with a paper this past year… they were able to drop that cost of the media to around 11 dollars per liter… that was a 97% cost reduction in media that this group basically did for fun just to demonstrate that it can be done.”
Animal-free food technologies, such as new plant-based foods that accurately mimic animal products and cultured meat (meat cultured from animal cells without requiring the slaughter of any animals) have the potential to dramatically displace the consumption of conventional animal products. But what are the bottlenecks in the way of successfully scaling up and reducing the costs of these products? And how can these bottlenecks be overcome?
Dr Elliot Swartz is a senior scientist at The Good Food Institute and the author of a number of in-depth resources on cultured meat. He has previously worked as a consultant in the biotech industry.
Topics discussed in the episode:
- The different stem cell-types that can be used to develop cultured meat, what work still needs to be done in this area, and how it can be done (5:26)
- Cell culture media as the most pressing bottleneck, and the clear path towards addressing this (19:06)
- Scaling up bioprocessing and bioreactors (39:55)
- Scaffold biomaterials as a fourth technical bottleneck (49:43)
- The technical bottlenecks in the way of the improvement and scale-up of highly meat-like plant-based meats and the career paths that are relevant to this area (58:41)
- How Elliot started to get involved in the animal-free food tech space and the similar opportunities that might exist for others to enter the space by synthesizing existing research (1:09:30)
- The lack of funding for research in the space and how this compares to the availability of talent as a bottleneck towards further progress (1:19:39)
- The pros and cons (beyond funding) of seeking technical research opportunities in academic vs. for-profit environments (1:30:09)
- To what extent medical advances in tissue engineering and related areas will drive progress on cultured meat (1:41:19)
- The importance of and opportunities for startups to operate a business-to-business model in the animal-free food technology space (1:45:52)
- When will cultured meat and highly meat-like plant-based meat products become competitive with conventional products in terms of cost and taste? (1:49:02)
- Should the proponents of animal-free food be prioritizing cultured meat or plant-based meat? (1:56:02)
- The skills and characteristics that would make someone an excellent researcher in the cultured and high-tech plant-based meat space (1:58:50)
- The transferability of career capital between academia, startups, and nonprofits and between research into high-tech plant-based meats and cultured meat (2:04:18)
- Concrete opportunities for getting work in this space (2:07:46)
- Which forms of academic and professional expertise are most urgently needed for the development of animal-free food technologies (2:13:43)
Resources discussed in the episode:
Resources by or about Elliot Swartz and the Good Food Institute’s work:
- 80,000 Hours’ podcast with Marie Gibbons, research fellow at GFI
- Open Philanthropy Project’s 2015 post on animal product alternatives
- Paper by an independent group at Northwestern University in Chicago where they were able to drop the cost of the media to around 11 dollars per litre
- Mark Post’s first live tasting of a cultured meat hamburger in 2013
- 80,000 Hours, Bruce Friedrich of GFI (not discussed, but Bruce Friedrich has also been interviewed for the Ezra Klein podcast, Rich Roll’s podcast, and the Cultured Meat and Future Food podcast)
- Companies mentioned in the podcast: Gingko Bioworks, Zymergen, Equinom (see also Benson Hill), Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Perfect Day, and Clara Foods
- Sentience Politics’ 2016 policy paper on cultured meat (featuring the estimate by Isha Datar and Daan Luining of the number of research working on cultured meat)
- Merck KGaA as an example of a life science company interested in cultured meat
- Memphis Meats $161m funding round
- US Congress’ spending bill for 2019 that included over $45 billion for cancer research
- Report estimating the return on investment in R&D for the Human Genome Project
- “My Food Job Rocks” podcast episodes with Marie Gibbons, Isaac Emery, Erin Rees Clayton, Aylon Steinhart, and Zak Weston of GFI
- Animal Charity Evaluators, “When will there be cost-competitive cultured animal products?” (see also Claire Yip’s recent estimates)
- Rethink X: “Major disruption in food and agriculture in next decade”
- Animal Advocacy Careers’ skills profile on technical research in animal-free food (forthcoming)
- Cellular Agriculture UK
Resources for using this podcast for a discussion group:
Transcript (Automated, imperfect)
Speaker 1 (00:00:06):
Welcome to the sentence Institute podcast where we interview activists, entrepreneurs, and researchers about the most effective strategies to expand humanity's moral circle with a focus on expanding the circle to farmed animals. I'm Jamie Harris, researcher at Sentience Institute and at Animal Advocacy Careers. Welcome to our ninth episode of the podcast. I was excited to have Elliot Swartz on the podcast because ever since we started the sentence Institute podcast, I've been hoping to have an episode really diving into the weeds of the technical issues, strategic considerations and career opportunities involved in a scaleup and development of cultured meat. Cultured meat, also known as clean meat or cultivated meat is meat that is grown from animal cells without requiring the slaughter of animals and Elliot Swartz seemed like the perfect person to interview about that. He's a senior scientist at the good food Institute, which is probably the largest and best known nonprofit directly offering support for the development and marketization of animal free food technologies.
He also has several in-depth resources about cultured meat on his own website. In this episode, we focus mostly on cultured meat, but we also take some time to discuss highly meat like plant based meat technologies. On our website. We have a transcript of this episode as well as timestamps for particular topics. We also have suggested questions and resources that can be used to run an event around this podcast and your local animal advocacy or effective altruism group. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have questions about this and we would be happy to help.
Our guest today is Elliot Swartz. Elliot has a PhD in neuroscience from the university of California, Los Angeles where he works with induced pluripotent STEM cells to model neuromuscular disease. After that he worked in consulting for startups in the biotech industry. He's now a senior scientist for The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit working to promote and support the development of high quality cultured meat and plant based meat. Welcome to the podcast Elliot.
It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
You're very welcome. So the plan for this episode is to get into the depths of the bottlenecks of the development of animal free food technology. But just for any listeners who are unfamiliar with the topic or need a refresher, what's your 32nd elevator pitch for what cultivated meat is and why the world needs it?
Well, cultivated meat is essentially genuine animal meats that is produced by growing animals, STEM cells into meat products without the need to slaughter an animal. And the world really needs this because there's so many negative externalities associated with the traditional way that we produce animals for food and we know that that's only expected to grow. And so we need to come up with new technologies that give people the meat that they love just produced in a different way and cultivated meat is definitely a part of that repertoire.
Cool. And obviously this isn't the only technology that the good food Institute focuses on. So what's your summary of the new generation of highly meat? Like plant-based meats, what they are and how they're different from other plant based foods on the market?
Yeah, I think the newest generation of plant based meats, really what separates them is the kind of granularity in which they try to replicate real animal all the way from, you know, the sensory qualities, the texture, and as well as the nutritional value of the actual product themselves. And so while in the past things just kind of took plant-based components and put them together in a shape that resembled a food product or a meat products. Now it's really building those plant ingredients from the ground up into meat that tastes and resembles more like the real thing from the animal. So let's start with the big picture overview. In your view, what are the biggest challenges in the way of having high quality cost competitive alternatives to animal products available on the supermarket shelves? What are the most promising actions that we can take to address those challenges?
I think if, if you look across the entire alternative protein industry as a whole, I think, you know, the biggest thing that's kind of limiting some of the cost competitive nature of these products is really the scale and efficiency of that scale. Uh, and so if you compare to the conventional animal agriculture industry, those supply chains and, uh, the techniques that are used to grow animals have been optimized over several decades and many of these technologies, although they borrow different manufacturing techniques or processing techniques from other industries, they're not necessarily fit for the end purpose, uh, for creating new meat products. And so not only do we need to really increase the manufacturing capacity for each of these alternative protein industries, we also need to come up with new and more efficient solutions that allow us to process ingredients or inputs, um, in different ways that are fit for purpose for the end products that we're creating.
And so I think there's a variety of different ways that you can do to address scale. And we'll talk about some of the sort of key technology areas that play a role, I think for addressing scale, at least in the cultivated meat industry. But really I think optimizing technologies across the board that feed into these alternative protein industries, I'll go to increase the efficiency of the overall process itself.
Okay, great. So in a report released late last year called meeting the needs of the cell based meat industry. You wrote that to commercialize cell-based meat for critical technology areas require further innovation, so lung development, cell culture, media, bio-reactors and bioprocessing and scaffold biomaterials. So I suggest that we just sort of talk through the details of each of those different areas in terms that sound like a good plan?
Cool. Okay. Let's start with cell line development then. So in an 80,000 hours podcast with Marie Gibbons, who's a research fellow at GFI, Marie Gibbons mentioned several different cell types you can work with to produce cultivated meat. These are embryonic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells induced pluripotent stem cells, muscle STEM cells and satellite cells. Givens talks about that efficiency rates, and I think she's referring to the efficiency at which those cell types can be induced to turn into specific cell types and multiply to grow more cells of that kind.
She presents the idea that all of these cell types have different pros and cons and that we should be exploring all avenues at this stage. She comments in these situations when we're working with low efficiencies, I think there's always potential room for that efficiency to increase. So while I'm personally still working with satellite sales at the moment, because that's what I know. I would definitely suggest exploring the alternatives. So obviously that's a great resource for people who want to dig into Marie Gibbons' podcast a couple of years ago. But yeah, there's obviously been some time past and some more research since then. Are we still at that stage where it's a bit of a free for all in terms of using whichever cell types you please or is the picture starting to become a bit clearer that certain cell types are more clearly preferable or that their function is being increasingly specialized for particular uses?
Yeah, it's, it's a good question. It's a big question because the cell line that you're working with and the cell type that you're working with really determines a lot of the downstream process considerations. But I think, uh, you know, in general that picture is, is correct to where, you know, there's pros and cons of using each cell type. And it really depends on what you're trying to produce and at what scale you're trying to produce. So just to, to jump in here a little bit on, on the cell types, I think I would just add that, uh, generally classify things into, you know, the stem cell types and, and their potency and potency is a term that that basically describes how many cell types and a stem cell can form into. So for instance, if you're working with embryonic stem cells are induced pluripotent stem cells.
They have a very high potency because they can turn into essentially any cell type in the body. But as he moved down this sort of developmental timeline and you produce more adult stem cells, like the satellite cells that were mentioned, or mesenchymal stem cells, or even a cells that are fibroblasts or fibro adipogenic progenitor cells, these generally have a more restricted potency and that they can turn into only muscle or in some cases, muscle fat and bone. And so the selection of the cell type really kind of dictates the sort of limitations that you have in the amount of cell types that you can produce. Now with that said, so for instance, if you're trying to start a process with a muscle, satellite cell muscle cells or skeletal muscle cells in particular are the only cell type that you're going to be able to create.
And so, you know, you can't really produce fat from satellite cells if you're starting that way. There are some, some methods that you could technically do so, but there would be dramatically less efficient to, to pursue. Uh, and then alternatively you can start with an induced pluripotent stem cell and then be able to create muscle fat and connective tissues all from that starting cell type. However, to do so might take a longer time in terms of a process timelines and it might be difficult to efficiently produce entirely muscle cells or entirely fat cells from that single population. Another consideration I think, is really the doubling times of these cells. So, for instance, pluripotent stem cells can replicate and divide in generally speaking more rapidly than some of the other adult stem cell types that are mentioned. And there's also ways that you can go about improving or increasing the doubling time of the cells, which is a really important sort of parameter when we're talking about scale up and talking about producing as many cells as possible.
So I guess to put it all together, I think there's a lot of different considerations for the selection of your starting cell type. And in general companies are working really across the board working with all of the stem cell types that we just mentioned. And part of the reason why they choose those stem cell types doesn't necessarily, I think, you know, become dictated by this sort of cost benefit analysis and looking at all the different pros and cons of the stem cell line that you're starting with. Because a lot of that is not necessarily known, especially for the species and new species that we're working with in the cultivated meat industry. And a lot of that has to be empirically determined. And so the selection of a starting cell type, you know, seems to largely be dictated by the previous founders' experience with working with those stem cell types because that's really what they know the best and that's a starting point that they know can work. Uh, I think it's important to note that you can create meat from any one of these starting stem cell types if you really want to. And that's important. It's just all a matter about figuring out how each of those parameters influence the efficiency of the bioprocess that you're going to be building.
Okay. I guess a followup questions coming from that then is if the founders and these companies working on these issues aren't necessarily doing that sort of cost benefit analysis so far, are we at the stage where that seems reasonable or do you think that just the sort of experience of the researchers and the founders themselves would in most cases still be sort of the best determining factor as to which types of cells that they worked with?
I think when you're starting out, that's probably a good, a good path to take. You know, you want to start with something that you're familiar with. Um, and then as you bring in maybe more talent that has a more diverse experience with different stem cell types, uh, and you start, you know, collecting your own data around certain parameters and you start to figure out really what it is you're aiming for, what scales you're aiming for, what those timelines look like, and you start getting a sense of the costs associated with that. That's when you can kind of make an informed decision about, you know, perhaps switching and what cell type you're using or perhaps bringing in a different stem cell line to maybe you want to create muscle just from the satellite cell and then you want to use induced pluripotent stem cells to produce the fat for whatever reason. I think those sorts of combinations where you're creating different and cell types from perhaps not just one single cell line is a possibility in this industry as well.
Sure. So with that idea of potency, almost like the flexibility of the, of the types, given that you're saying that there some of these might be less efficient and they might have sort of worse doubling rates, doubling times, is there any benefit of actually using those more potent, more flexible cell types? Or should companies and researchers really just be focusing on sort of specializing and using these different types of cell types and sort of combining them in the end product?
Yeah, so another important parameter that is somewhat related to potency is the idea of, of cellar and mortality or basically replicative senescence, which is a term that essentially describes, uh, the shortening of telomeres and their eventual senescence of cells over a certain number of replications. So when we're talking about plural potent stem cells, they actually upregulate naturally telomerase enzyme, which prevents those telomeres from shortening, which essentially in part due to a variety of other changes within those cells, make them immortal, such that they can divide indefinitely over time. And that's a really important trait to have when you think about the amount of cells that you need to produce to produce the biomass that we're talking about for the cultivated meat industry at scale. So it's not a necessity that these cells have to be immortal. You can create a lot of cells by just having 30 cell divisions or doublings population, doublings over time by starting from let's say a satellite cell for instance.
However, the, the advantage of creating a cell line is that you can, a cell line that is a mortal that is, is that you can really use that cell line as a robust work horse and figure out really all of the parameters associated with that. You're building your bioprocess and the things that we'll talk about a little later with, with bio-reactor design and those considerations, you know, basically around the stem cell line or the stem cell type that you're going to be working with. And so if you can stick with one single cell line that you have stored and banked away, that you can just keep pulling from again and again and you can use that as a sort of predictable, uh, cell line that you're working with. Then you have a lot of advantages when you go to commercial scale production. So I'd say there are also ways that you can take, you know, straight from a tissue biopsy from an animal and you can do what's called a process of spontaneous, a moralization where just by culturing those cells you can by chance basically have those cells accumulate an amount of genetic variance where they overcome the replicative senescence and basically become spontaneously immortalized.
And this is a technique that companies may pursue because it essentially avoids the idea of genetic modification. So by not really understanding all of the genetic alterations that are going on during that culturing process where you're generating a spontaneously immortalized population, um, you don't then have to really submit to the same sort of regulatory oversight that you may have to do if you're using other genetic modification methods. And just to cap on that point, there are well understood ways that we can genetically modify cells to make them a mortal. Um, and that is a practice that may be pursued in the cultivated meat industry, but again, it goes back to really, is that going to be, um, a regulatory concern or not.
Okay. And just to backtrack a little bit, am I understanding correctly that the more potent cell types tend to last longer and be sort of better place to form the so-called immortal cell lines?
I think that's generally true and mostly because as if you're pulling from a population of stem cells that is in adult tissue, it's already gone through a number of cell divisions. And so in some cases it's a little bit, uh, you know, "worn down" as a starting point versus if you're starting from something that's more developmentally immature.
Okay. And so if somebody's interested in working on this particular bottleneck within the cultured / cultivated meat space, so working on cell line development, what is the most important and most relevant technical or academic background that they could gain? So GFI's student guide mentions genetic engineering, molecular biology, cell biology. It also notes that for ensuring that cells differentiate into the desired tissue types at scale bio-engineering, tissue engineering and computational science could be useful. Is there anything that you'd add to that or do you have any thoughts, additional thoughts on those different disciplines and how they can contribute?
Yeah, I think that that does a pretty good job of summarizing. I guess one, one area that is generally these two areas are combined. If you're going to graduate school or in some cases in an undergraduate classroom is where you might take a class in stem cell and developmental biology and I think developmental biology is one area that I would add to that is essentially what you're doing is recreating development outside of the animal body. In a lot of ways. You're taking these stem cell types that during development form into skeletal muscle or they form into fat and you're programming the cells or giving them the sort of inputs and signals that they need to turn into those cell types and to have a good understanding of how to do that. Really involves a lot of what you'd learn in, in a developmental biology setting.
So you noted in an article that you wrote in 2019 that companies and researchers with experience in strain optimization or high throughput genome editing are needed to support efforts on cell line development. Uh, you obviously you touched on the idea of genetic editing just now, but you were kind of suggesting that this is an area that people are kind of looking for alternatives to, even though there's some more sort of well understood avenues that can be used in that area. So how does that fit in then? Does that, is that an area that's more expertise is needed or is this just something that's kind of on pause for the moment?
Yeah, I think, you know, the difference in some of these industries that rely on strain optimization, which generally refers to, you know, optimizing microbial strains in this case rather than, uh, mammalian cells or animal cells. But the concept is the same where you're sort of optimizing a certain cell line or a certain strain of a microorganism in order to make it more efficient. And a lot of ways to do that nowadays is through genome editing. I think the difference here in this industry is that you know, the cell type, the cells that you're creating actually become the product. Whereas in other industries, you're using those microorganisms as sort of hosts to produce something else that's harvested in, in most cases. And so the concept behind them is the same and the techniques that you'd use as the same. So there's companies out there like Gingko Bioworks for instance, or Zymergen. They focus on really strain optimization in ways to make microorganisms way more fit for purpose and efficient for producing a certain thing. And in the same vein, we can do strain optimization or in this case, cell line optimization in the same vein to help and assist surely with understanding different research and development pursuits in the cultivated meat industry. But, um, eventually, you know, perhaps, and again, depending on the regulatory, uh, status, uh, around gene editing also to improve the commercial production of cultivated meat.
Great. Okay. Let's move on to the different, slightly different topic and bottleneck of cell culture media. So in that 2019 article that I mentioned that you had written, you wrote that estimate suggests that 55 to 95% of the marginal cost contribution of a cell based meat product will come from the medium. So is this the most substantial technical bottleneck would you say?
I'd say it's definitely the most pressing. Um, obviously, you know, we're not going to be able to bring, uh, products and commercialized products, bring them to market without lowering the costs that, you know, at least getting to a point where people are actually going to pay for them. Um, so I'd say it's definitely the most pressing bottleneck and we can get into why that's not, not perhaps necessarily the most technically involved bottleneck. Cause I think there's a, there's a relatively clear path on dramatically reducing the costs of the cell culture media. Okay, great. So what's that clear path? Well, so I think, you know, from a starting point, we understand that, you know, the cell culture media is for your listeners to understand is, is generally how we think of it is considered based up built off of two kind of main ingredient categories. And one is the basal media that we refer to.
And that is generally composed of inorganic salts, uh, lipids, amino acids and other small peptides, uh, vitamins and other essential kind of nutrients that cells need to grow to survive. And then there's another category of recombinant proteins. These are things like, uh, insulin or transparent or growth factors. And those are signaling proteins or peptides that, uh, play an important role in cell growth proliferation or differentiation that are really the driving input signals for these cells, um, to either turn into the cell that you want or to maximize its growth, et cetera. And if you look at the cost contributions from each of those categories, the recombinant proteins are by far the driving source of those costs. Contributions were probably anywhere from over 90 to 95% or more of the cost contribution of cell culture. Media today comes from those recombinant proteins. And so the first thing that you want to do if you're reducing the cost of your media is to improve the production of those recombinant proteins.
So in the biopharma industry, those proteins are produced at what's generally referred to as research grade or CGMP grade or clinical grade. This just kind of describes the purification standards and quality assurance that those proteins go through. But as inputs for the food industry, you need, uh, you really just need a food grade protein that you're going to be using and the purification standards and the quality assurance that you do, um, is, is highly less burdensome. And so the cost can come down dramatically just by producing things at that different food grade scale, food grade purification standard. The next thing, and really the most important thing is scaling up the production of those proteins. So, for instance, in the food industry, if you're producing enzymes that are used to help food processing or um, fruit juice clarification for instance, you are producing things in very large quantities.
Again, using well understood production methods through microorganism fermentation. Uh, but that doesn't really happen right now in the way that we produce growth factors. And there's no real technological limitation that's preventing us from doing that. It's just that to this point in time, there's really been no incentive for recombinant protein manufacturers to produce these proteins at such scales. And that such low cost because they're making good margins by selling to the biopharma industry. The last thing would be to actually engineer those growth factors. So for instance, you can engineer them to become more thermo stable so that they last longer in culture or you can engineer them to become more potent so you have to use less of them. And all of those things combined are really important for dramatically reducing the cost right off the bat of the media that will be used in cultivated meats. And you know, from our understanding and by talking to some of these recombinant protein manufacturers, there's really no technological limitation that's stopping us from doing that.
I'm kind of struggling to get my head around why, I mean apart from the incentive idea and just that people haven't been sort of, there hasn't been a particular reason for companies to focus on this so far. I'm kinda struggling to get my head around why it hasn't happened yet. I mean given the industries are using it and to some extent, even if the incentive is smaller, I would expect there was some incentive and it also kind of, it doesn't really match up to my understanding of at least from resources a few years ago that didn't seem hugely optimistic about the likelihood that the costs would be brought down sufficiently. So I'll read out a section from, there's a post by the open philanthropy project on animal product alternatives, which is from 2015 they reviewed three estimates of the possible future costs of cultured meat.
So the most recent of these was a 2014 back of the envelope calculation by some academic researchers. And it suggested that even if we reduce the price of animal free medium to what they believe is the lowest possible cost, which was one Euro per liter, it will be insufficient to make cultured meat cost competitive with conventional meat. So their estimates suggests that eight years of media is needed for one kilogram of meat. And this is a lot more than the approximately $1 per liter that GFI's report suggests is necessary for cost competitive cultured meat. So yeah, I guess what are your thoughts on those estimates and if you can share any light on why you think there might be that disjunction between your relative optimism about the clear path and some of those more pessimistic estimates from a few years back, that'd be great.
Yeah. So, um, Mimy colleague Liz Specht, I think two years ago or so, um, began drafting a sort of cost analysis paper that looked at the ingredients of a very common, uh, stem cell culture medium that's used for pluripotent stem cells and looked at, you know, what are those ingredient costs and what, what can we do to lower those costs? And essentially what her analysis came to the conclusion was that using technology that we understand we can leverage today, you can lower the costs below 50 cents a liter. I think the lowest point in her scenarios that she runs through is somewhere close to like 25 cents per liter. And since then, you know, we've talked to a lot of, uh, cell culture, media manufacturers or recombinant protein manufacturers and there doesn't seem to be necessarily any disagreement there in, in the findings. And I'll give one good supporting [piece of] evidence; an independent group at Northwestern university in Chicago came out with a paper this past year that again, took that same medium formulation.
Um, and just by producing, uh, the growth factors that are used in it, in-house, in their own lab. And they did some engineering, again around the thermal stability and potency for those growth factors. They were able to drop that cost of the media to around $11 per liter just by engineering three growth factors and producing them in Cola in their own lab. And now that was a 97% cost reduction in media. Um, that this group basically did for fun just to demonstrate that it can be done. Um, and this was also by purchasing, uh, commercially available, so produced not in the same efficient way, um, transparent and insulin, which were the, uh, basically the, the remaining two large cost drivers for the media there. Um, and so we're already starting to see that there's, you know, there's demonstrable proof that this is a path forward.
Those costs analysis paper and then the exact figures around some of the growth factors will be updating those costs later this year in, in collaboration with a large recombinant protein manufacturer and using some of the actual cost curves that they have already calculated for production to give them more accurate costs. But to our knowledge, I think, you know, the, the under a dollar per liter range is definitely achievable. Certainly even within the next couple of years. It's, it's possible that companies could be purchasing things for below $5 per liter and eventually hopefully close to a dollar per liter price point.
Great. Obviously we'll be able to stick out that, that link to that paper. And as with all the resources that we mentioned on this podcast, uh, but that the paper that GFI did, that you're planning to update talks about costs per liter of culture medium and with the estimates ranging from $376.80 in the base case through to $0.24 in the most optimistic scenario, which is obviously, as you say, close to or under, in some cases though, that that sort of $1 threshold, that was the suggested. Uh, are you able to share a, sort of ballpark explanation of how many liters of this sort of media would be needed to say, produce certain amounts; say a hundred hamburgers worth of cultured meat? It's hard to read in these papers. It's hard to get sense of what sort of scales are involved, I guess.
Yeah, it's a good question to get these sorts of estimations around and I guess what makes it challenging is that, you know, it depends on really the mode of production at what you're operating. So I'd say, you know, one of the biggest parameters that you want to look at when you're talking about how many leaders does it take to make a certain amount of meats is really around how many, how, how high of a density can you achieve in the bioreactor format that you're using. So different sorts of bioreactor formats will be more amenable to achieving very high densities and therefore you have to use less medium. Now with that said, ultimately the amount of meat that you're able to create is really dependent on the amount of raw input material that you're adding. And it really has to amend itself to the feed conversion ratio or essentially what is the conversion ratio of the amount of carbon and amino acids and other things that you're using as raw material inputs.
How much of that is lost to just metabolic waste? Um, you know, that we talk about a lot is wasted when you grow an animal, obviously, but some of that's also wasted when you're growing just cells for their normal metabolism. Um, and so those feed conversion ratios aren't necessarily well understood, at least from a publicly available perspective. I believe there's probably a lot of work that goes on in inside cultivated meat companies to understand that. Um, and I'll also mention that we are in the, in the midst of an ongoing project with several cultivated meat companies as well as seven or so outside companies that have expertise in cell culture, media manufacturing as well as facility construction. And we're looking to produce, uh, you know, to use that raw data that they're supplying in order to produce a life cycle assessment and a techno-economic evaluation of a cultivated meat commercial scale process about let's say 10 years in the future from now; a facility that can create 10,000 metric tons of meat per year.
The amount of media and the actual volumes is, it can be really controlled again by the mode of the bioreactor operation as well as um, you know, how concentrated those inputs are in that media. So I'd say as opposed to the figure that you gave before around eight euros of media for one kilo of meat. I think if we're talking about a price points below a dollar per liter, I think you can drive that down maybe half of that or even less than that within just a couple of years and and reaching some sort of uh, near commercial scale production. So you're talking about more around let's say three or $5 per media in the, in the coming years, um, to produce one kilo of meat. And a lot of that is again dependent on some of those things that I mentioned.
Okay. Do you think that there are still people who are both fairly expert in this area and also remain fairly pessimistic about the likelihood? I guess? I guess there's, it's hard to know for any groups, researchers working deeply in this area. You can see why you can become really optimistic about certain things, that sort of thing. Do you think that there are people who are, as I say, also working on this, but just like they just don't come to the same conclusions or do most of the people that you work with and speak to seem to be super optimistic that these costs really can be driven down and will be quite soon?
I talk from it from a perspective where I was actually quite pessimistic starting out. And the more I've learned, um, you know, the more that I see that there's, there's a clear path possible for, for dramatic cost reductions. I'd say a lot of people come into this and they're, you know, they're using these sorts of very high expensive medium formulations. You know, I was culturing cells. I was burning through thousands of dollars of culture media per week or on every two weeks when I was in graduate school working with induced pluripotent stem cells. And so it's hard to imagine that not knowing all of the details around media, manufacturing and scales and efficiencies of scales, that's something that you can produce a kilo of, of biomass, of, of animal tissue through cell culture techniques could even be remotely possible to bring the cost down to what we, we buy me that per kilo today from animals.
But I'd say yeah, just throughout my, my own work in interfacing with a lot of different companies and manufacturers, um, and doing these sorts of initial analysis, uh, and, and looking at some of that data to me, I've just become more and more convinced over time that the cost is not necessarily the biggest issue. It's more around, uh, you know, the scale and infrastructure and then making supply chains operate efficiently, um, in a certain amount of time that really, you know, is amenable for this industry. Taking a larger share of a larger market share away from the cold, uh, traditional animal agriculture industry. So yeah, I'd say there's still definitely people that are pessimistic, but hopefully some of the resources that will be coming out with, uh, throughout this year. And this life cycle assessment study that involves an economic analysis attached to it will really be, I think, eyeopening and insightful for people, um, to hopefully change some of their, uh, opinions about that.
Cool. Look forward to that coming out. Do you have a rough date for when that's expected to be published?
Yeah, so hopefully by the fall of this year, uh, we should be wrapping up the, the life cycle assessment and economic, uh, study and then we'll be updating Liz's, uh, cost analysis paper, um, I think throughout the next few months or so. Um, and I'll also be releasing some writing that goes more in depth on some of the other things that we can do around media costs, uh, reduction, uh, around really optimizing that supply chain really want. And where do the raw materials come from? Like amino acids, um, and what, what can we do around recycling media and uh, valorizing certain waste streams that are produced by cells such that you can perhaps earn money from selling metabolites or, or other things that, that again, cut into the overall cost picture of the production itself.
Great. And just to pick out something that you mentioned a couple of minutes ago, you, you said that you've more and more begun to think that it was not so much about costs, but about efficiency and scale. In my head, those things are essentially the same because presumably the cost is primarily determined by the ability to scale up and create these, these products and these, these cells, whatever at high efficiency and high scale. So what's the distinction you're making there?
Yeah, so they're definitely related. I think, you know, if you look at where the industry's at, today, the size and the scale of it is really minimal. So companies and this year are really just breaking ground or planning to break ground on a pilot scale operation that is perhaps running between 50 liters at the low end and upwards of a thousand leaders at, at the higher end. And if you think about those volumes overall, compared to biopharma manufacturing and even academic research, you know, they're just so minuscule. And that's part of the reason why these sort of large protein manufacturers and other medium suppliers haven't necessarily been paying attention to cultivated meat seriously because it's just such a low part of the market that they have to sell. Um, and so as that changes over time and they see the potential of this industry scaling to the volumes that are really going to be required to achieve scale, I think you'll start to see them, uh, these large manufacturers play a big, a bigger and bigger role in dramatically reducing costs over the next, let's say two to five years now.
Scale up. Just to finish this thought around scale. If once you go from, you know, pilot scale operations to commercial scale, you're really talking about dramatic costs associated with infrastructure and also some technical challenges because you know, ultimately we've never grown animal cells at the scales that are required for this industry. And so I think, you know, from that perspective and those timelines where you know, the infrastructure to be built and the amount of money that needs to go into it just to reach those sort of capital expenditure requirements is going to take a much larger timeframe to achieve than, than will require for cost reductions. And so that's why I kind of, you know, they're, they're intertwined at first, but I think they decouple as costs come down with the media.
Okay, cool. So yeah, with this other area, we've already spoken about some of the career areas and sort of expertise types that would be relevant to focusing on developing cell lines and working with different cell types. So what is the kind of relevant academic or professional backgrounds that would be most helpful in this area for uh, improving cell culture media? This is actually something that I didn't quite follow from GFI student guide because it uses a slightly different categorization of the issues to the materials you've written about with technical bottlenecks. So, yeah. Do you have any thoughts on the most relevant career types here?
If you're going to be working on cell culture media optimization, you generally need this sort of empirical data collection side to accompany that. So you want to, you know, I think be familiar with cell culture and in some cases, you know, it's, have a sort of traditional cell biology, molecular biology background. I think that's useful. I guess from, you know, a modern day cell culture, media optimization. A lot of that revolves around sort of computational techniques that are more done on a computer in terms of the design of experiments, let's say, and looking at all the different parameters that you can use, um, or that, you know, the, the different inputs that make up a cell culture, media and the different concentrations that you might use and the different combinations that can be managed a lot more efficiently from a computational perspective. And so, um, I think there's a role for, uh, not necessarily, I don't think pure disciplines, but if you can, uh, you know, be involved in a, in a lab that's working on metabolic engineering or computational modeling, um, as it relates to cell culture, media designer, large parameter search spaces. Um, those can all be applied to improve cell culture media.
Great. And is this actually given what you were saying about there being a relatively clear pathway here, is this actually something that needs new expertise, needs new talent or should people, is it more of a priority to just focus on being able to offer something to the other sort of bottlenecks that we've been talking about and that we're going to talk about going forward and then is it is, I guess what I'm getting at is can people who are focusing on the other aspects of developing cultured meat easily just sort of address this issue as well? Or do we need specialized expertise for the issue of producing the costs and improving the scale of cell culture media?
Yeah, that's good question. I mean, I think all of these things, all these kinds of four technology areas still need a lot of, um, expertise and influx, um, to work on it, not only in industry but also in academia. Um, and some of those disciplines can change, um, depending on what you're working on. So, I mean, what I kind of described as around formulation, but you know, we can still improve cell culture medium if we look further out by just, uh, you know, working on things like medium recycling. So for instance, if you want to capture things like ammonia or lactic acid as byproducts of those cells, a lot of that and the expertise that you might need for that is more from a chemistry background or biochemistry background where you're figuring out, um, you know, how to isolate those components from the media and then, you know, turn them into something else. So I think there's a variety of different disciplines, even within the cell culture, media optimization fields that can play a role. And, uh, yeah, as a, a lot of the upfront costs are from this sort of growth factor, engineering and, and fermentation kind of scale up of those growth factors themselves. Um, but as you get into some of the other components that are, you know, less cost reductive, uh, from overall picture, but we'll play more in more of an important role further out in the future. I think it brings in other disciplines.
Okay. Sure. Let's move on to another bottleneck then. So I've read less about the bio-reactors and bioprocessing areas and about some of the other issues that we've mentioned so far in your 2019 article that I've been referring back to. You provide some relevant information about what the eventual needs will be for the industry in this area, such as noting that significant developments are needed to scale cell-based meat to affordably and reproducibly produce batches upwards of 10 to the 12 and 10 to the 15 cells. But I didn't really get a sense of how far off this we were at present. What's the largest batch that you're aware of that has been produced so far, and how does that compare to what we're aiming for?
The purpose of that statement is to say simply that we need batches. We need to be able to efficiently produce batches of cells that are in the trillions or hundreds of trillions of cells in a way that's, you know, efficient and reproducible. And if you look at other industries like cell therapeutics or biologics industry, you generally don't need that amount of cells in order to, uh, you know, get the end goal of, of what you're trying to do. So for instance, if you're trying to produce enough cells to, uh, regenerate the heart from a myocardial infarction, uh, you need on the order of like one to 5 billion cells. Um, whereas here you need trillions, hundreds of trillions, et cetera. Um, so to give people a sense, I guess, you know, if we look at a model of a cultivated me bioprocess at scale, let's say you have cells at 50 million cells per milliliter, which is a fairly high density to achieve.
Um, and then you have 10,000 liter bioreactors, then you're talking on the order of five times 10 to the 14th, um, as of a total amount of cells that you're producing. And of course, as I, as I mentioned, you know, companies are just beginning to operate in, in the pilot scale realm where they're working between, you know, let's say 50 liters and a thousand liters. Um, and so, you know, to get up to 10,000 liters is another leap. Um, and, and you know, two orders of magnitude or so, um, in some cases. So yeah, certainly there's a long way to go in achieving those scales. Uh, but ideally once you have your sort of, uh, parameters optimized in a pilot scale, the transition to commercial scale, um, you know, should go somewhat fluidly, hopefully, uh, is the hope. But of course we don't know that yet, since no one's at that scale.
Yeah. With that area, then if, well, what are the things that mean that it might or might not go to plan and what can be done to address that and well, I guess increase the likelihood that we are able to scale things up in terms of production facilities, that sort of thing?
Yeah. There's a lot of considerations. I think from my perspective, one of the challenging things is that you're working with stem cell types or cell types that we don't necessarily understand how to culture well in these sort of suspension bioreactors or stirred tank bioreactors. So a lot of that is all novel information. That's being developed at these companies. Um, and, and a lot of that isn't publicly available. And so it's hard to say really how successful they've been to this point. Um, so there's a lot of unknowns there. And then the other thing is that again, the mode of the bioreactor has a lot to do with, um, the ease of scale-up. So in general, animal cells are very sensitive to things like sheer stress, um, where if you have these very large stir tank bioreactors, you're generally using more power to, uh, turn the impellers, which translates to turbulence in the actual bioreactor itself, which translates generally to a higher amount of sheer stress that those cells will be subjected to.
So part of scaling up and the difficulty in scaling up animal cell production is, is really monitoring and dealing with that sheer stress, especially as it relates to these other cell types that are not well understood. And so in some cases, you know, they may be easier than human cells for instance, that have been thus far challenging to scale up using those conventional methods, um, and their baby, um, animals that just have innate traits that make them more amenable to scale up that you can leverage. But all of those different things are going to, I think, play a role here in, in the scale up process and how fast it happens as well as the sort of limitations of scallop, you know, one way around that or one other possible way is again, by playing with the uh, bioreactor mode that allows for high density cell cultures in, in low volume that don't take place in stir tank or suspension, um, bioreactors.
And there are different sorts of perfusion, bioreactor systems like hollow fiber membrane bioreactors or uh, sort of hollow micro tubes that you can grow cells in, in smaller micro environments where they can achieve a much higher cell densities in lower, lower overall volumes, um, and reduced shear stresses. So, you know, this is one way of saying that a lot of possibilities exist for the sort of bioprocess that companies will pursue. And there's a lot of open space, I think for novel engineering around, you know, bioreactors themselves, but also around the bioprocess design that you're, that you're building out in order to really achieve those scales of hundreds of trillions of cells per batch.
So on a sort of day to day level, what does, what would research in this area look like? Is that somebody essentially building whole new bio-reactors and making small tweaks and seeing if it's seeing if it works better than the previous one? Is it somebody playing around with a small component of a reactor or, yeah, they're starting to imagine like what somebody would do, you know, they get up in the morning, they go to the lab. What is it they're working on that day to address this issue? Yeah, it's a good question.
You know, so obviously the, the cost and the time to run an experiment, let's say in a 50 liter bioreactor is, is very high. Um, and so generally in the industry what you do is what's called scaled down where you're using miniaturized bioreactors that are let's say a couple of hundred milliliters in volume and you're sort of understanding of these sort of parameters that those cells need to to grow. You're, you're sort of playing around with the, the medium formulation. For instance, you're playing around with the controls around pH balance or metabolite control or those sorts of things. And you're trying to really understand which of those gives you the most, uh, you know, efficient output or the most reliable mode of production. And then by, by doing that sort of scaled down process, a lot of those things are just conserved as you scale up with some consideration. Again, as I mentioned, for perhaps let's say higher sheer forces that might be exerted at scale, but in general you're operating on a much lower scale. And then once you figure that sort of thing out, that's when you do a test run in a larger scale.
Okay. So from, again, going back to GFI student guide, I got the impression that this was a kind of an engineering area. So it, in terms of being able to work on the issue of bioreactors, bioprocessing, that sort of thing. GFI student guide mentions, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, computational science and design as possible areas. But from, yeah, from what you just said, I mean, obviously I'm not an expert in any of these areas, but it sounded almost like it was the more, the more kind of almost like the cell biology molecular biology aspect that we've been talking about that's needed as well in that sense. I don't know what's your thought on that?
Well, I think, um, in general if you're, if you're working on bioprocessing, you know, you're gonna probably come from a more engineering background. There's a lot of math involved in those sorts of things that I talked about. So I think those sorts of things come from an engineering background and obviously just growing the cells is more of a district, you know, sort biological discipline or pursuit. Um, and I think those sorts of two teams really work together where, you know, you have your engineers that are understanding the sort of mathematical background between some of the equations that you might be using to understand fluid flow in the bioreactor for instance. Um, and then those people are working with how do I translate those sorts of outcomes to, uh, the actual cells that we're using. Uh, so I'd say certainly, and we didn't, I didn't mention this from the start, but also that leads you to the ability to understand and design better bioreactors. Um, so I think that's kind of where the mechanical engineering and design aspects come in where I think a lot of companies right now are forced to use what's on the market for other industries that have been developed. But again, they might not be fit for purpose, for cultivated meat, especially when you get into this sort of differentiation mode of, of cells and incorporation of, of things like scaffolds and harvesting processes. And so that really requires more novel engineering solutions. Um, which, uh, yeah, involve those disciplines.
Okay. So do you think somebody who does have a really strong background in mechanical engineering but they've not had anything to do with, uh, cell biology or, or some of the more kind of biological side of the work that people work in cultivated meat are doing, do you think that they would be able to just pick up the relevant knowledge fairly quickly or does it actually require a substantial amount of expertise in that area as well?
I think in, in these modern day biotech companies, you have people that uh, you know, come from more computational or engineering backgrounds interfacing with people that are more strictly biological backgrounds. And in general it's harder for the biology people to understand the, uh, the math and computational side of things than it is for the engineers to understand some basic bits of biology. So I think part of a successful company focuses around bridging those disciplines and having those teams talk to each other efficiently and understandably. But I think along the way, engineers generally tend to pick up quite a bit of biology knowledge that they may not start out with but is generally easier to acquire than the other way around.
Okay, great. So let's move on to another area that you've spoken about and that was scaffold bio-materials. Can you just clarify what that refers to you?
Sure. So a scaffold is essentially, you know, a structure that cells are going to be adhering to that either assist in the proliferation of the cells. Um, so that could be something like a micro carrier where the cells are, they don't do well basically as, as single cells. They'll actually go through a program, cell death process if they don't have a sort of attachment to adhere to. And so a micro carrier is one form of scaffold that can aid in the proliferation. The other sort of scaffold is something that is more a standstill where you're using a prefabricated scaffold that cells can then adhere to. And then that AIDS the differentiation or some other process. Uh, some other process related to sort of final product formulation. And so the, the bio materials that the scaffold is built up, uh, can come from a variety of different sources. And in general, we want to pursue bio materials that are either edible or biodegradable such that they can be incorporated in a food product. Uh, and so yeah, the, just the range of different bio materials or biopolymers is generally what I'm referring to by that term.
Yeah. Again, what is the, what's the work like? What's the relevant expertise in this area that's needed?
Yeah, so I think generally how I think about this sort of scaffolding area comes from an understanding of the materials and then an understanding of the methods to construct those materials. And those might have sort of different areas of expertise. So for instance, um, you know, the, the actual bio materials themselves, I think you generally come from more of a, a strong biochemistry background or material science background and bioengineering really blends the ability to take certain bio materials and then construct them for downstream uses. So methods of construction, for instance, can be anywhere from three D bioprinting to, uh, different forms of polymer spinning techniques. Um, or even just, uh, understanding, you know, there's also a way to construct scaffolds if they're created from fungi. That's just by, you know, optimizing a certain strain of fungi and having that mycelium grow in a certain way for a scaffold to be created. So the sort of discipline of bioengineering I think blends those two ideas between taking materials and then using them and fabricating them for a downstream purpose.
Okay. So you've written a really detailed resource on your website and I've read it called how it's made the science behind cultivated me, which I'd encourage scientists, listeners to check out if they're interested in delving into a bit more. And in that you wrote that the scaffolding structure for cultured meat may leverage native tissue architecture such as diesel theorization or be constructed by design such as three D printing spending to any Scotia tubes like we've just been talking about. I guess the scaffold may consist of different composite bio materials prepared and to create the science or architecture of meat with differing stiffness and or embedded growth factors to assist in the attachment migration and maturation of stem cells into their differentiate counterparts. So these all sound like quite different sort of approaches and things that have been different ways to tackle the problem to me. Have those, yeah. So what extent have those different approaches actually been tested so far? Are we at the stage of testing their initial feasibility or is it more a case of knowing that these different approaches work to some extent and just investing resources and effort into a number of different approaches to see which seems most tractable for scallop?
Yeah. Um, I think to me scaffolding is, is more sort of the wild West of, of possibilities still. Um, I think, you know, an indication of that is that, you know, we talk to an interface with a lot of people with expertise in let's say bioprinting or you know, polymer spinning techniques like electro spinning or other, other areas. And they all feel that they have a role to play in the future of, um, you know, cultivated meat by providing scaffolds. So essentially, you know, people with a variety of different, um, expertise come in and say that, you know, they have the solution. And I think that points to the fact that, you know, we don't really have a clear picture and path forward of what, what scaffolding materials will be used as well as what techniques will be used. Um, and, and that are most appropriate at scale, um, for future, you know, whole structured meat products, um, which are of course sort of the, the Holy grail of this industry. So yeah, I think as it, as it relates to, you know, comparison between, let's say cell culture, media and scaffolding, I'd say there's a lot wider range of possibilities that exist in the scaffolding realm and a lot more uncertainty I guess, around what is going to win out in my mind.
And does that mean that we need more people working on it now or fewer people in the sense that is this stuff dependent on advances on the other bottlenecks or do we need people, you know, as many people addressing this problem as possible now?
Yeah, I mean I think again, for all of these technology areas, we need a lot more people in general working on all of them. I think if you compare to the sort of timescales and timeframes that you know, these things are generally going to be flowing out where companies need cell lines and cell line optimization to start with or else they'll go nowhere. Um, from there the focus might turn to cell culture media because again, it's sort of the most pressing need to reduce costs. And now companies are really just starting to sort of do this sort of bioprocess design that's going to lead them to on the path to scale up. And it's sort of along the way, you know, you're thinking about scaffolding, but it's, it's hard to invest all that time upfront in the scaffolding for something that is more, you know, if you don't solve the other ones first, you're not going to go anywhere.
So I think there's been somewhat less of a focus on scaffolding to this point in time. But that's not to say that it's not important because ultimately that's going to really influence a, the amount and range of products that you can produce. So, you know, getting those sort of whole structured meat products in the future as well as influenced the sort of, you know, texture and maybe some nutritional aspects as well as the final product. Uh, so we definitely need people working on scaffolding now and it's just that I think up to this date and time. Uh, so a lot of the focus has been on sort of cell lines and, and media, um, for the reasons that I described.
Okay, sure. So with Mark Post's first live tasting of a cultured meat hamburger in 2013, one of the food critics described it as close to meat, but that juicy, the texture was described as perfect. To what extent is perfecting the actual taste of cultured animal products still an important focus for researchers?
If I recall, I think that Mark post burger didn't really incorporate fat. So certainly that could be part of the explanation there. Um, I believe it was just cultured skeletal muscle tissue, but from all accounts, um, from, you know, people that I've talked to that have tasted cultivated meat products, I actually haven't, although I'd like to, but I have not had the chance yet. But in all indications say that the taste is relatively conserved, so if you're growing tramp or fish or something, you still get that sort of fishy flavor and aroma that's inherent to those cells. Now with that said, I think there's a lot of consideration for, you know, what happens when you cook the product? Is it the same? Does you know, in the same way that impossible foods is, is going back and really understanding the sort of chemicals that are released when you are cooking a product.
Um, we have to do those sorts of comparisons I think for cultivated meat products as well. Um, as well as uh, improve, uh, on the texture. Um, I'm surprised that they said the texture was perfect because in my mind that's something that maybe only amenable to certain product types for sure. So I'd say the sort of expertise that companies want to be able to blend in is, is from backgrounds in food science and meat science that are generally, you know, don't blend or traditionally don't interact or interface with, you know, let's say cell biology. Um, but now you have these sort of food scientists operating alongside cell biologists and people in cultivated me companies in order to really understand, you know, the tastes that components of the final product.
Okay. So before we zoom out to some of the kind of big picture strategic and movement wide perspectives, I think it would be good to touch in on the, we've been talking a lot of detail about the technical bottlenecks affecting the development of cultured meat. But let's think also about the technical bottlenecks in the way of developing high tech, plant based meats at scale and at um, you know, comparable costs, taste, all those sorts of things to conventional products. So in an episode with another 80,000 hours podcast, Bruce Friedrich of GFI argued in 2018 that there was more scientific technical opportunity and plant based foods than in cultured meat because we learn stuff on an almost weekly basis about the science of plant based meat that we didn't know about. Do you agree with that characterization of there being almost a more opportunity for the scientific side in the plant based space than the cultured meat space? And do you think it's, yeah. Do you think it's still accurate now, two years later?
I think there's a, yeah, actually a lot of accuracy to that statement. And, um, you know, I wouldn't have suspected that to be the case. You know, coming from more of a cell biology background, not too familiar with plant based meat at all, how it was produced. Um, but when you really go into it and you understand that a lot of the products today are basically created just from soy, uh, we P and some other, um, products on a sort of decreasing amount of, of volume. And a lot of that is just solely dependent on existing capacity and supply chains. So, you know, these crops that you're using to create plant based meat aren't really optimized for the end product, the end, um, and use case. So for instance, uh, soy is classically an oil seed crop. You know, the protein is more or so a byproduct of other industries. And so there's really a ton of work around characterizing the variety of different plans that exist in nature and really picking and choosing and also engineering crops to, to be more fit for purpose for downstream application in, um, plant based meat.
Yeah. So, as you mentioned there, there's so many different types of plants out there that haven't necessarily been explored or fully explored yet. When it comes to making plant based meats, we rely a lot on pea protein, wheat, soy. Would you agree that a lot of the research opportunities in plant based foods likely revolve around trialing out new plant proteins or trialing the use of those primary proteins in different contexts? Yeah,
gum, a lot of that, uh, is, is definitely involved there. You know, there's some companies I think like just famously, uh, claims that they're, you know, they have a sort of, um, process where they use a variety of different plan components to create new flavors and sort of try to leverage, uh, an artificial intelligence or machine learning aspect to that where you can create different formulations, um, of different plants to produce the flavors and products that you want. Um, I I even more further upstream than actually just trialing out the plants. I think goes around this sort of, again, concept of strain optimization where similar to fermentation, where you're optimizing strains of microbes and similar to cultivated meat where you're optimizing cell lines, uh, you can similarly edit or play around with an engineer the inherent properties of plants such that they're more again, fit for purpose for plant based meat. And I guess one example of that is a company called Equinom in, uh, Israel that is engineering or has engineered a, a variety of uh, soy crop that has a much higher protein content. And so you can really get large gains in certain sort of, you know, not only sustainability metrics but cost metrics if you just increase the amount of protein in these plants by a small percentage. Um, and then at scale that really adds up.
And by engineering we're talking about genetic engineering here, presumably.
Yeah. Any sort of sort of genetic modification against some of those, some of those techniques could be considered GMO and some cannot, just depending on the sort of regulatory framework that you're operating in.
Okay, cool. So what sorts of, yeah, again, areas of expertise, professional or academic backgrounds are helpful here? GFI's student guide notes that for building a model that can predict what the right plants are, which is, I'm assuming the same topics, what we're talking about here. They're relevant disciplines are computational science, data science. Again, getting to that kind of machine learning type aspect, you were mentioning uh, genetic engineering, food science and plant biology. Anything you'd like to add there or is that kind of cover it?
Yeah, I think in my mind that does a pretty good job at um, covering some of the key things.
Cool. And yeah, just to, just to add to that, it also adds that for better raw materials for plant based meat it recommends genetic engineering again, mycology which has to do with fungi, if I'm right, and plant science.
Yeah. Yeah. I guess I would say, you know, obviously you know, without, um, you know, plant based meat products, uh, can be composed of plants. But also I think there's a variety of different companies that are looking into fungi, which of course are, are not plants, but are generally classified under the same category. And I think there's a lot of interesting work that can be done there, um, as well. And there's a lot of advantages that that fungi have in terms of how they're grown that I think, um, yeah, are definitely useful for the future generation of food.
Sure. So when we were talking about cultured meat just now, you didn't seem to think that the kind of taste element was so much of an issue. Do you think it's more of an issue when it comes to, uh, these high-tech plant-based meats? Is that sort of bottleneck there?
From my understanding? Yeah. And I think if you look at, um, you know, founders of companies like Ethan Brown in interviews, I believe even he says, you know, we're about 80% there in the sort of final product that we actually want to be able to truly replicate animal meats. Um, so I think, uh, yeah, there's, there's a lot more, you know, under greater understanding that can be gained around this sort of, again, those sort of volatile compounds that contribute to the flavor and aroma of, of real animal meat that can be perhaps added in, um, you know, as additional components to plant based meat, uh, as these sort of new generations come out, um, to, to more accurately recapitulate those taste elements.
And do you know anything about blind taste test results? So I'm assuming that people are still able to differentiate highly meat like meat, like plant based meat products from animal products, but I'm not a hundred percent sure. I think I've seen, for example, a very heavily edited video where a group of children couldn't tell the difference and were seemingly shocked to discover that what they just eaten was made out of plants. But do you know if there are publicly available results for more rigorous scientific studies on this?
Yeah, I, I think I'm, you know, I'm not too familiar with the, the extent of the literature there. I'm unsure. There's, there's some examples and I'm sure also there's a lot that siloed within these companies that have, you know, they've done internally that are not necessarily publicly released. So, um, yeah, off the top of my head I think there's a lot more that can be done and should be done in terms of, um, more available data. But I also don't know the full extent of those findings.
Do you have thoughts on the career paths in this area? So the student guide mentions that for optimally functional ingredients for plant based meat, uh, food science, molecular biology, biochemistry and plant biology are relevant here.
Yeah, I think I just add that, you know, meat science as a discipline is, is something that can contribute a lot to the understanding. I think food science and meat science I tend to group together, but they're also definitely separate disciplines that incorporate different sets of knowledge. And, um, yeah, I think the more that traditional meat scientists can help, uh, interface with any sort of alternative protein company, whether you're producing products from plants or from cells, um, there's a lot of knowledge that can be leveraged from those individuals.
Okay, sure. Yes. Interesting. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I just hadn't, hadn't, I guess I hadn't seen it referred to in GFI's materials for cultivating meat, but makes a lot of intuitive sense that there would be a lot to offer there. So another area that is referred to for the plant based area, and I'm kind of, I think I'm drawing mostly off -- GFI has a couple of... they're a few years old now, but GFI has a couple of mindmaps for the plant based meat sector and the cultured meat sector. So I think I'm getting these different sort of bottleneck areas from there. Another one that's mentioned is streamlining manufacturing and processing. Yeah. Do you have a sense of what the work is that needs to be done here? Obviously we were talking about manufacturing and sort of in the sense of bio-reactors and that sort of thing for cultured meat. What about plant based meat?
Yeah, it's as we kind of mentioned at the top, um, you know, if you look across the industry, you know, any alternative protein industry that's sort of manufacturing capacity and motive of manufacturing I think are important bottlenecks and I think a lot of the way that you, uh, either mix plant based materials and, or process them through techniques like extrusion again are sort of not necessarily fit for purpose for plant based meat. And so different modes of actual processing, raw input materials I think can be created. And a lot of that is focused around things like, you know, mechanical engineering. Um, and then to understand how the sorts of, uh, actual, you know, proteins for instance, are interacting within that equipment. Um, and, and this sort of outputs that you, that you get after processing those, uh, proteins or other raw materials is a, is a lot of biochemistry and food science involved in understanding, uh, you know, basically how process relates to, to end product.
Yeah. GFI's student guide suggests as pathways here, chemical engineering, biochemistry and mechanical engineering and food science. And actually we spoke, I spoke about this topic of the kind of manufacturing and processing needs for plant-based me in a previous episode of the podcast with Christie Lagally of Rebellyous Foods who used to work for GFI and who was talking about how the plant based meat industry was relying on machinery created for bulk processing of animal products, really like bull hooks and that even even the equipment for high moisture extrusion, which is integral to a lot of plant based meats has a number of other applications and it's not necessarily specialized for the plant based meat industry there.
Christie is a great source of information on that topic and I know her company's really focused on trying to change the game there in terms of what is available in terms of processing. And I think that's a huge, uh, component that probably within larger plant-based meat companies will maybe start to be built out as novel solutions or other companies will, you know, see that, that that is a huge bottleneck as well and start to focus on that area moving forward.
Cool. And so actually when it came to -- given what we said when we started talking about partner summit a few minutes ago, that there's actually a lot of scientific opportunity in this space. I couldn't see anywhere near as much in terms of just like useful resources that kind of really just went into the depths of these technical issues for the plant based meat space as I could for cultured meat. Uh, you know, I couldn't see anything comparable to your really thorough going through of the, of the difficulties in terms of cultured meat for the plant based meat space. Are you aware, aware of any of the sort of excellent resources for reading more about the technical details and the bottlenecks in this space that you'd be able to recommend for listeners?
Yeah, I say I, you know, I, I would agree with you there. I mean, part of the reason why I started to write a very sort of in depth analysis of the scientific disciplines involved in cultivated meat is because I felt that there really wasn't anything out there. So I think something with plant based foods could be equally as useful and to my knowledge, nothing quite like that exists. And um, you know, of course we have some resources that touch on plant based meat manufacturing, but there are in general a little bit less, less detailed and more um, you know, short in nature just, uh, for the audiences that we're producing those for. I think part of the reason why we don't necessarily have those resources because we haven't had a plant based meat, senior scientists employed for a substantial length of time. So it's something we definitely would like to do but just haven't had the bandwidth internally to do so.
So I think a lot of knowledge and technical details are there out there in the peer reviewed literature, but they're not necessarily summarized in one location and also summarized in the context of plant based meat. So yeah, I, I would encourage, you know, if someone's out there that has the sort of biochemistry background, they have, you know, an understanding of plant based meat, just start writing. That's actually how I got into the field. I started a blog on cultivated meats and then soon after I became in contact with people in the industry. Uh, and that's what led me to a career in this space. So, uh, if you see a need for filling in technical details, uh, I would encourage you to just start, start to doing it.
Oh yeah. Really interesting concrete suggestion there. With those sort of contacts that developed out of your writing, was that you following up with people and emailing them saying, Hey, look at this great thing I produced. Or was it people literally finding it through other, uh, mechanisms and getting in contact you?
Yeah, I mean, I became interested in, um, cultivated meat in grad school because I was creating muscle tissue from human stem cells for disease modeling. Um, and I just thought that this was such a mind blowing way of creating food that I hadn't even conceptualized or heard of yet. And so I began to look for more information on it and I was very surprised that there really wasn't anything out there. And so I just wrote a blog that really detailed, I think from a more developmental biology-focused lens about how this process actually works and people found it online and, you know, investors would reach out to me. People offered to start a company with me in some cases. Um, and that's really what drove me into solidifying this as a solid career move for me. So I think in the same vein, if you feel that, again, if something's not being addressed that you can't find easily and you feel you have the expertise to contribute, I would encourage you to do so.
Okay, great. Yeah, that's just, uh, just the idea of getting almost unsolicited, unsolicited, uh, startup requests from people based off having written something on a website somewhere on the internet is, I think it goes to show the extent to which there's a lack of these aggregated resources presumably. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Just, just on your own background, since we're on the topic, what was your, what was your kind of route into the area then was, I mean, obviously that sounds like that played a key part, but were you working on the, in the kind of area for unrelated reasons previously?
Yeah, I mean, when I went to graduate school, I really wanted to do something, um, longterm with regenerative medicine, leveraging induced pluripotent stem cells to create humans therapies. Um, I just was fascinated by the technology and you know, my PhD is in neuroscience, but I'd say my core area of expertise is in stem cell biology. Um, and again, as I, as I mentioned, I was doing this work, um, you know, creating protocols to create skeletal muscle tissues. Um, and that was around the same time when companies like Memphis meats and Finless foods were, were being formed and were getting media attention. Um, and I was just captivated by the idea, um, you know, that you could actually do this. And to me it was feasible from the start. I knew that it was, you know, extremely costly and there would be a lot of work to do.
But from a career aspect, um, that was very important that, you know, I could get in early on this new industry. It's very scientifically challenging. Um, and there's a lot of questions that are interesting to answer. And then on top of that, you know, I really wanted to align my career with something that was more meaningful. Um, um, I come from this angle a little bit more driven from the environmental sort of perspectives and concerns. I wanted to align my skill sets with addressing climate change, which otherwise, when I think have been feasible at all. But what's great about cultivated meats and really all any alternative protein industry is that, you know, the work that you're doing is, uh, improving various different aspects that, um, for planetary and animal and human health, uh, that I think make the whole participation in the field, um, and your work in general, just a lot more meaningful. So yeah I guess I was captivated by the idea. I didn't know if I wanted to start a company in this space. I felt like I was too inexperienced, um, to do so. I felt like there was a lot left to learn and when, uh, an opportunity at GFI was open, I applied instantly and luckily they hired me.
Cool. Yeah. Exciting. Let's come back to some of the career opportunities in this space. Obviously it's been a topic we've been talking about so far anyway, but I just wanted to pick up on something you mentioned a second ago in terms of, you said if people, there's a lot of relevant research out there already in the peer reviewed literature. I mean, if somebody was interested in this kind of project of just aggregating what already exists, do you have any recommendations of even just the journals or the places that they should look for to find this sort of thing? Or even just like what search terms they should type into Google scholar or just anything concrete to help people get started on that process?
Yeah, I mean, so starting there, I think, um, you know, if you, if you type in, uh, things related to plant based meat, um, and I think in some cases plant based meat is becoming more, you know, actually referred to in the literature. And it's actually interesting to track how, how these more, uh, you know, the modern terminologies for these, uh, things evolve. But I think, you know, in general how I go about as I try to find a review paper that does a good job of summarizing, you know, the topic that you're interested in. So this could be, you know, formulation around plant based meat ingredients or maybe it's around more of the processing, um, extrusion technologies that have existed to date. Um, and then within that sort of, you know, review article, there'll be a lot of references and that will lead you down the rabbit hole into certain -- learning the, the exact details.
So in general, review articles are great because they summarize, you know, a variety of different uh, topics and a variety of different studies. But, you know, in general I use those as sort of starting points to guide my further research. So I think that's a good way to go about that. I'd add that, you know, for instance, in cultivated meat I started a publicly viewable paper pile folder, which is just a tracker of, you know, a way to track, uh, publications and you know, do notations and things like that. And I was just doing that for my own purposes and then I realized, you know, this could be a good resource for everyone. Um, and so now I just make that paper pile folder publicly available where all of the peer reviewed literature that comes out in the cultivated meat space or sector I keep track of. And then I kind of aggregate into different subsections. So, you know, related to scaffolds or related to cell culture media for instance. And I've got a lot of feedback on something that I thought was so simple, you know, in terms of what I was already doing. Uh, that has made life a lot easier for other people I guess. So, um, I think similar things can be done in, in, uh, the plant based field as well.
Okay, cool. Just on you mentioned that sort of terminology issue that plant based is, is being used increasingly. Are you aware of other terms that you'd recommend people be aware of? I think the one that I've seen a few times in some of the academic stuff was "textured vegetable protein"; that seems to come up a few times.
Yeah, that's a good one. I'd say. Um, it's a little hard for me to think on the spot about plant-based need life. Emulsifications, might be a good word or things in food science journals. Um, the, I I have a little bit less, uh, exact recommendations for that. Um, but I think again, if you, if you find a good review article that seems to be talking about the subject that you want, I think that can be a great starting point, um, to, to dive in.
Yeah. And, but these review articles then is if, given that you're, you're saying you think there is still space for some of the more aggregating and summarizing work, if these review articles do exist, is, is the problem more that they just don't sort of do the final step of having the practical implications of what this means for what's needed and kind of combining and looking at different sorts of bottlenecks or what's what's missing and what's already there is I guess what I'm getting at here?
Yeah, I think that's, that's exactly correct. So I'd say in a lot of instances, um, the different scientific disciplines are, you know, separated, um, and they are talking about an application that is not necessarily plant based meat or whatever alternative protein that you're interested in. But in reality, you know, that that has or can contribute to that field. So I think the idea is really synthesizing the different areas and different sectors of, of scientific domains. Um, and then, you know, making it easy for the reader to understand how they all blend together to produce, you know, these, these next generation alternative proteins to date. I think there's been, you know, less of that in the academic literature because it's, it's, it's such a new discipline that you really need people that are professors that are working in, let's say, tissue engineering or working in food science for other things.
They're not really thinking about this as an end application yet. Few of them are men and growing set of them are. But as a whole, I think there's, there's less of that time and consideration given. Um, and so you can really hopefully kickstart, I think, you know, what's happening in the cultivated meat space is that sort of synthesis of ideas and different disciplines is starting to kick start more traditional people in academia in different fields into thinking about how it applies to, let's say, cultivated meat and then they begin to write about it. Um, and so the sort of literature, uh, grows and you get more insights from different domains.
Okay. Uh, I'd like to move on to talking about some of the more kind of strategic movement wide perspectives on some of the bottlenecks and some of the issues that are involved as opposed to some of the slightly more technical challenges. Uh, so when it comes to the numbers of researchers and the sort of talent and expertise that's needed, one relevant consideration is the number of people actually working on this topic. So yeah, in 2016, Isha Datar and Daan Luining both then at new harvest estimated that the number of entirely devoted researchers to the, I think they're talking about cultured meat specifically was about five individuals worldwide with another 50 to a hundred known researchers in related fields expressing varying degrees of interest in working on Saturday to add culture. I'm assuming that's changed a bit since 2016. Uh, would you be able to give a ballpark estimate of the number of people working on cultured meat or cellular agriculture worldwide these days?
Yeah, it's a good question. I think every, every week the number grows and especially with the amount of people that become interested in, I think, um, you know, a bottleneck that we can talk about is around funding and finding funding for those research projects. But I guess, um, as a ballpark estimate, I'd say if you look at, there's probably around 50 cultivated meat companies or so, um, there's research divisions forming in other large life science companies that are working directly on cultivated meats. Um, and then there's a lot of research that's beginning to get going in academia. So I'd put it in the, you know, the ballpark of a few thousand, um, maybe not over 10,000, but a handful of thousand.
And how do you think that compares to the number working on highly meat? Like plant based meats?
Yeah, so obviously that's a more mature industry. I'd venture to guess it's maybe a 10 X, uh, jump. Um, but no, maybe not, not more than that. Um, I think there's still relatively few people that work on plant based meat, especially in an academia. From my understanding, obviously a lot of research, um, you know, companies are very heavily on R and D internally. Uh, and so a lot of that probably happens in industry. Um, but yeah, it's probably a about a 10 X jump from that few thousand.
Sure. And so to what extent do you think that companies tend to struggle to find employees for the technical scientific roles? Is this actually a substantial bottleneck for them?
I think it's becoming less and less so, although some cases it, it is, um, I think at least in the cultivated meat sector, initially companies would struggle because it was so new. Uh, if you're a tissue engineer or you have a STEM cell biology or bioprocess engineer, you're going to go into biopharma or you're going to go into some other industry. It's more, you know, is generally more of a, a well known and also maybe more solid career move, um, or less, less risky, let's say. Um, I think that's becoming less so as this industry grows, um, and more people become aware about it. I think what companies, uh, you know, in some cases there could be bottlenecks around their actual geographical locations. Um, so, you know, in the U S there's a huge pool, uh, talented researchers and then even more so in areas like Silicon Valley that are just hotspots. And then, you know, the same thing as in some locations in Europe and Asia, et cetera, but it's not evenly distributed. And so some companies I think will struggle more for that. And then the last thing I'd say that getting sort of director level or C suite level executives, really people with, uh, industry experience, um, or you know, significant academic experience, um, is it stumble. It's still challenging for some of these companies. And I think the industry would benefit by more effectively bringing in those experienced veterans into the fold.
Yeah. Interesting. Is that just because the people interested in this area tend to be of a younger demographic, why is there that you're saying that there's less, it's more sort of focused on the, the more experienced researchers?
Yeah, I think it's, it's, um, it's a combination of, you know, a younger demographic having more interest in this area as well as the sort of risk profile. So, you know, if you're, you know, working at a company like, uh, you know, cell therapeutics company or a biopharma company for 10 years, then you know, you're probably moving up the chain there and you're making pretty good money. Uh, it's hard to leave that behind. But you know, some people when they get to a certain point in their career, they're looking for a new challenge. Maybe they're looking for something that aligns again with climate change or animal welfare, something like that. And this is now, uh, the greatest opportunity that they have in their life. So I think we're starting to see that in some, I think you see more younger researchers paying more attention to this field seriously than, uh, some experienced veterans, let's say.
Yeah. And so the, I mean from the perspective of an individual seeking to work in this kind of research area, actually securing roles, focusing on the kind of technical research in animal free food tech is presumably constrained either by the availability of roles at companies and nonprofits focusing on this or the possibility of getting funding for work on relevant research once you're in an academic position. Who do you think struggles more -- sort of talented individuals with relevant expertise looking for jobs in area or sort of high quality companies and startups struggling to hire technical researchers?
I'd say in, at least from an academic perspective, um, the opportunities for funding are just so limited. Um, you know, there's very few funding opportunities. Obviously GFI is one, New Harvest is another, there's a few grants that have been given, um, by various governmental organizations across the globe so far. But you know, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed. So I think there's a, there's a huge bottleneck, um, in, in that sort of funding that's coming into the industry and the amount of available opportunities that even you can apply for funding. And so within GFI we have a team of three individuals that are really focused on, um, increasing the amount of funding in this space. You know, making connections with funding agencies and the program directors there get them to realize that cultivated meat or other alternative protein technologies address a lot of things in, in human health and a lot of things in, uh, related to climate change, et.
I'd say so. So yeah, I'd say that the funding opportunities for people in academia and then subsequently the researchers and students in academia are limited from that perspective. What I tell the students a lot is that a lot of people have their eye on working for Memphis meats or working for impossible foods are working for one of the companies in the sector. But really what's going to happen as these industry matures is that there's going to be a lot more opportunities in, um, you know, tangential companies that play a role in this area. So for instance, um, you know, Merck KGaA is a, you know, a giant life science company and they've been fairly public about their involvement in cultivated meat and their interests there. And so as this ecosystem grows and there's more providers that sort of play horizontally into the value chain, there's a lot more opportunities that are going to be opening up for scientists that come from, you know, a tissue engineering background or a bioprocessing background. They might not actually be making meat, but they could be making products that serve the industry. They could be making new tools, new bioreactors, new reagents that feed into the cultivated meat industry. It's just that you're not working for a startup in the space. And I think, um, you know, that's fine.
Yeah, definitely, definitely. Okay. So going back to that idea of actually being able to secure funding, like you mentioned GFI, New Harvest, various governments are providing funding, but yeah. What are the sort of success rates of actually people applying for funding? If somebody has relevant expertise, how likely is it that they'll be able to get funding to do the research they'd like to do?
Yeah, I guess, in the academic realm we're trying to help, uh, establish centers of excellence, um, you know, get big grants that flow in that can really, you know, incorporate an interdisciplinary group of scientists to center around cultivated meat or plant based meat, you know, to date we're tracking and we're starting to track the actual amount of people that have applied to different funding agencies. And you know, it's to our knowledge, I think there's barely any that have been successful. Um, a lot of them are, you know, come from researchers that are well-experienced. But the idea of cultivated meat is just so new to these people that review the grant proposals. It's so far out there, they don't understand it. And in some cases you have people with, you know, a different set of interests, uh, from the conventional meat industry that are reviewing these proposals that, you know, perhaps score them on favorably for personal reasons.
So to date, I think there's very few successful applications and we definitely need that to improve and we're trying to find ways to do that and, and mechanisms to kind of unlock, to make these funding opportunities more available because there are ton of researchers in academia now that are starting to pay attention to this field and they want to contribute really top notch research groups across different disciplines. And unfortunately they just don't have a lot of, uh, funding opportunities available to them. To that end, we started a funding research database that James on our team is building out. Happy to share that link. Um, in the end it's an early version of it and we're hoping to incorporate more international opportunities, but I think it's a starting point for, you know, just making it easier for people to look for those, uh, those funds.
And then I guess just to close around, uh, you know, funding I think, you know, to date the venture capital appetite and other investment, you know, from private folks that are starting companies hasn't really been too challenging, which is, which is nice. There's a lot of money flowing around and a lot of investors that still want to participate in this area because they see the opportunity and, and they don't want to miss out. Um, so really I don't necessarily see private funding right now as, as a huge bottleneck as it relates, you know, more more. I see it more from the academic perspective where ultimately want that foundational research to contribute and to prop up this industry as it matures. Um, and to date we just have too few opportunities and too few researchers, um, engaging.
Okay. And then in that sense, if somebody is interested in doing what you say, they're persuaded that it's really important that there is this kind of open access research in the academic sphere in this space, but those opportunities are just really hard to get right now. What would you recommend they focus on in the meantime? Would you recommend they stay in academia doing something as closely related as possible or would you recommend that they try and get direct experience for companies?
I think both of those are okay options. I think it's, it's totally okay if you're a scientist or a student working on a project that is, is somewhat related and it's not the perfect fit to cultivated meat or plant based meat application, let's say. Um, that is entirely okay at this stage because quite frankly, no one comes out of grad school or, or anywhere with all the range of knowledge that you need to, to really understand the cultivated meat process. I mean, I, I had coming out of my PhD just a really small subset of knowledge around stem cell biology and, and muscle cell biology. Um, and learning all about bioengineering and bioprocessing is all something that I've been trying to do and still am doing over the last two years. So I think yeah, I would continue to pursue, you know, what it is you're doing as it relates.
Obviously you want to try to tailor that more closely to cultivated meat applications. If you're in a stem cell lab, you know, try to make muscle tissue or fat tissue. If you're in a tissue engineering lab, maybe work with biomaterials that are food safe. Um, and if you're a bioprocess engineer, maybe think about the implications in the scale that are needed for this industry more than you otherwise would if you're working in let's say, cell therapies. But certainly I think, you know, if you have those skills, you're still a strong candidate for hire for these companies.
And do you have any thoughts for individuals, uh, looking for work in research in this space about pros and cons of working in academic versus for profit environments?
Uh, from a career perspective, I think it boils down to really, um, you know, what, what you're most comfortable with and what your goals are. Um, you know, academic research has its pros, but it also has its cons. Um, for me that had to focus around, you know, the idea of limited funding. I've wrote several grant opportunities as a grad student and none of them were funded. And that's just fairly discouraging. Um, and you know, for some people working at a startup can be exciting. Being exposed to that is exciting and seeing the sort of quick progress in nature of those things can be exciting but it's also a higher risk. Um, you know, startups can fold, things can change in shift around et cetera. So it's all about, I think, you know, your, your personal goals in your career and what you value.
Okay. So I'm getting the impression from you that essentially it's not as as clear cut as funding is or isn't a constraint. You're painting the picture that funding is a constraint in terms of vital, open-access academic research, but that the constraint doesn't need to exist to the same extent in the for profit space. Is that, well firstly, would you agree with that characterization of your views and secondly, is that situation paralleled in the plant based meat space as well as the cultured meat space or would you say it's quite different there?
Yeah, I guess what I'm saying as it relates to academic research, there's very few opportunities to build a project off of cultivated meats specifically as like that is the end application of what you're using this technology for, whether it's building a scaffold or whatever. Um, obviously, you know, there's plenty of funding and STEM cell biology and tissue engineering, but generally you have to focus your projects on human health applications. Um, you know, something like that that's translatable to the clinic or addressing a human disease. Um, so obviously there's shared knowledge there, but you're not at the end of the day, you're not working every day on, you know, making cultivated meat. Uh, and now as it relates to industry, I guess, yeah, I'd say there's been a lot of money that's been invested in, in startups and that reflects the excitement as well as the growing number of companies that come into the space.
Obviously the cultivated meat industry is very nascent still. Um, you know, from a, from a biotech company perspective, people I think raise their eyebrows at, you know, Memphis meats raising $160 million. But really it's not a lot of money. Um, when you compare it to other areas of biotech and medicine and we need multiple rounds and the a hundred millions of dollars, we need dozens of billions of dollars to ultimately flow into these industries and commercialize these products. So I would expect, you know, this is just a drop in the bucket so far in terms of the actual money that will flow into this space with plant based meat. Obviously there's products on the market, it's more industry. Uh, companies are still heavily investing in R and D, uh, even if they're public, like, uh, like beyond meat for instance. Uh, still heavily invest in R&D.
And so in a lot of cases, if you're working on plant based meat, that's probably the way to go. If, if, you know, from a career perspective, I think there's still just beginning again to get that sort of interest in academia for those end applications. And there's a lot more just direct off the bat. Companies can contribute to the plant, to the plant based meat sector. Um, you know, they can go to market and they can be successful and grow their teams and grow their R&D teams a little bit more fluidly and effectively because those, because it's more mature technology than cultivated meat. So academia will grow perhaps at a similar pace, hopefully then then cultivated meat in terms of like the amount of R&D that's going on and the number of people involved. Whereas plant based meat kind of has a headstart. Um, and from the industry perspective.
Yeah I thought it was interesting there your this idea of there being a lot of money and it sounded like a lot it, it's actually compared to other industries just not that much. Uh, according to a GFI report from few years ago, by the end of 2018 17 point $1 billion had been invested in plant based meat, eggs and dairy or selling those products in the US. And that was 637 million in 2018 alone compared to $73.3 million invested globally and cultured meat in total. And obviously that's increased since then because as you mentioned, Memphis Meats singlehandedly raised $161 million. And those figures, they seem impressive when compared to things like how much the open philanthropy project has estimated is spent on farmed animal advocacy internationally, which is their estimate is somewhere between $150-180 million annually. But then if you compare it to other areas of scientific research, it just doesn't seem that much. For example, the US Congress passed a spending bill for 2019, that included over $45 billion for cancer research, which is therefore over 900 times the amount spent globally on cultured meat research in 2018. So yeah, these numbers, I guess it depends what your comparator is, but there's definitely a case for something that when you're seeking a kind of revolutionary scientific technology change to the same extent, the numbers feel small from that perspective.
Yeah, I mean I think it's, it's under, uh, under appreciated, um, cause people will see in the news, you know, companies raising $10 million and the public that is, you know, maybe not necessarily as as informed or they're not tracking it as closely. They go, where are these products? I thought, you know, these products are going to be on the market. Why can't I buy these yet? There's tens of millions of dollars flowing into there. Where's all that money going? But it's just a sort of disconnect around, again, as you mentioned, the scale of, of funding and other areas, um, of, of human health and disease that are massively orders of magnitude higher. And I think, you know, it goes to show that we got to emphasize more around the, the potential of, of this industry and get governments to really get on board because that's really how you unlock the sort of large scale funding, as he mentioned in the billions of dollars at once to be unleashed.
Um, and, and to help accelerate these industries. And part of that goes to, I think, talking about the return of investments on different technologies. Uh, you know, a good example is the human genome project. I forget the exact number right now, but I think at some point in the near, in the past few years, the calculation was for every dollar that went in, you get 40 or $90 out. Some insane amount of ROI that, you know, was initially a $3 billion dollar project that was, you know, in those times astronomical. But in the long run it pays off. And so you got to start talking about those sorts of possible return on investments by investing in this technology heavily now and really benefiting the world in many different ways in the future.
Yeah. So presumably this is essentially a lobbying issue in terms of seeking funding from governments.
Yeah. And that's exactly why we have a policy team at GFI that, you know, helps to interface with governments and regulators and things like that to really get them on board and to see the see the potential.
Yeah. And I'm in, well, going back to this idea of governments providing that funding and that there being some funding in that space, but needing more on your own website, you provide a bunch of excellent charts on publicly announced money raised in companies, strictly focused on cell-based meat and the graphs show that government funding for research and development or infrastructure has mostly been provided by Singapore. Do you know how that money is being used currently?
Yeah, so the Singaporean government's really interested in cultivated me technology because it is hopefully a solution to some of their future food security problems. Um, they import something like 94% of their food and obviously they don't have land to grow animals. Uh, and so by massively decreasing the land footprint that's needed to grow meat, uh, as cultivated meat can do, uh, you know, they see that as a potential solution to feed their population. So yeah, they, they have released, I think it was about 108 million us dollar equivalent, um, dollars to be distributed amongst various different aspects of cultivated meat. So at, at a star there, which is, uh, they're sort of governmental sponsored R and D facilities. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it's a governmental run research, uh, group spread across a variety of different disciplines. And so they actually released calls for research proposals where they're hiring out a lot of, you know, new, uh, principal investigators as well as funding new projects, uh, across cultivated meat.
Um, and interestingly, they're very interested in food safety concerns as well, which is, you know, we need a lot more of that sort of research to go on. And so it's great that Singapore is investing some dollars to better understand the implications of cultivated meat as it relates to food safety. But those things are just getting started. It took a little bit of time for those dollars to get released, let's say, to the, to the people that have control over that money. Uh, so yeah, I, I'd expect, um, you know, Singapore to, to become a sort of hub, hopefully for the R and D of, of this industry. And a lot of that's led by forward thinking governments.
Great. Yeah. Let's hope more of that funding becomes available. Uh, both the Singapore and elsewhere. Okay. A topic we've kind of touched on, uh, various points is the overlap between cultured / cultivated meat research and the wider medical advances in tissue engineering. Just now you mentioned for example, that, you know, people can work on directly related technologies but just for slightly different applications for health project applications, that sort of thing. So yeah, I guess the question here in terms of thinking about what the needs are and how focusing, how the importance of focusing on these technologies compared to just the sort of social change we might be interested in around these technologies is to what extent, yeah, these sorts of medical advances in tissue engineering and related areas will just drive development in the cultured meat field almost without direct work in the area. So French, yeah. In fact, the project noted that $4.5 billion of capital investment went towards tissue engineering efforts worldwide between 1990 and 2002 and over 90% of that investment came from the private sector. So yeah, all that funding that's coming in, is that going to, if not solve the problem, get us a lot closer towards it without taking direct action for cultivating meat?
So it's a, it's a really good point, um, to think about. Um, but if you look at the innovations over the past, you know, two or three decades in tissue engineering and stem cell biology bioprocessing that has what is made the ease of making a cultivated meat prototype, so feasible. A company, once they have a cell line, you know, you can create enough tissue, um, by leveraging what we know from other industries and you can create a prototype that then you can show to investors and get more money and, and get, get generated excitement. Uh, I think so the birth of this industry was really leveraged by that funding that went into create all those technologies. But the growth of the industry and the commercialization of these products are going to require specified funding pools that operate strictly for the end product and end use case of creating cultivated meat.
While I believe in, I always write about and when I try to get, um, or try to try to talk about this when I write is that I think there's a lot of opportunities for synergistic research to occur between the cell therapeutic space, the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine fields and the cultivated meat fields. But you know, ultimately at the end of the day, a lot of the work that's going to drive the commercialization of this industry is going to have to be fit purpose for cultivated meat. And uh, in many cases those dollars are going to be, have to be, you know, sort of separately earmarked for, for cultivated meat versus other industries in my opinion.
Yeah. Marie Gibbons in a different interview from a 2018 podcast called, uh, "My Food Job Rocks," is the name of the podcast. So Gibbons discussed briefly that a lot more academic papers referred to research on pig cells because they are used more in medical applications than say chickens. And you've mentioned the same concern in that 2019 article you were always referring to previously does research into chickens, turkeys and fish just need to focus on sort of catching up with the medical, the advances that have already been made in the medical field for pig cells and that sort of thing?
I think, um, you know, it speaks to the amount of work that's gone on in these other species, which is just so limited compared to your workhorses of, of work and other disciplines with human cells or hamster cells, the classic Cho cell line and using the biologics industry. Um, and then, you know, mouse and rat cells are well understood. So of course some of those things and that basic biology is going to translate a lot of the developmental pathways and signaling pathways are conserved throughout evolution. Um, but just the fact that very few, if any people have, you know, cultured something like a shrimp cell line for, you know, our shrimp muscle cell line for instance.
Uh, there's a lot that could be unknown there and there's a lot of differences that could be unknown that we just don't know about. So the unknown unknowns, there are hard to predict and certainly we need a lot more research to better understand that. Um, but I don't think it's, I think everyone talks about this a differences between species and stuff like that. Um, but ultimately cells need a certain media mixture to survive the same basic nutrients, amino acid, sugar, et cetera. Finding out those formulations, um, is, is, is very key, but I don't think there's going to be a huge, huge bottleneck in getting up to speed in some of the other species.
Cool. On a slightly different issue, one of the strategic implications from Sentience Institute's case study of the biofuels industry is that, "moving from an industry model in which nearly all firms are racing to build parallel lab-to-consumer pipelines to a model in which different suppliers and producers, so to one another in a more distributed manner almost certainly adds resilience and might have technological development benefits on the lab to consumer model,
A stumbling block anywhere in the supply chain could take down company after company cause a cascade of investor flight and risk and alternative protein winter. In a diffuse model, a stumbling block might damage firms who exist at the same place in the supply chain as the problem, but we'll leave the broader industry intact. Hurt, but able to change direction and work around problems." And you spoke a bit about this kind of increasing opportunities in terms of companies that are working in an adjacent space or working on the, on some of the same sorts of technologies but just not working
all the time focusing specifically on plant-based or cultured meat. But yeah, I'm interested in your thoughts on what some of the good business to business opportunities are in this animal free food technology space and yeah, just what kinds of areas companies might be able to outsource there yet. Yeah. What sorts of outsourcing these companies might be able to do to other companies?
Yeah, it's, it's a huge, um, I think consideration for the industry and uh, and how it grows. And you know, to date a lot of companies are highly vertically integrated. They have to and are working on every aspect of technology development as it relates to cell culture media, the cell line optimization, they're building out the bioprocess. In some cases they might, you know, again, be pursuing novel bio-reactors that's all a lot to take under one roof. And it increases, I think, the risk that some of these companies have upon themselves. Now as the industry grows, what we're already starting to see is that there's more sort of horizontal entries into the value chain here where other companies see a good business to business opportunity by either selling cell culture, media to these companies, selling recombinant proteins to these companies at lower costs, creating scaffolds for the industry, et cetera.
So those four technology areas, I think, you know, that we talked about at the start, we'll continue to see growth in the, in the B2B sort of ecosystem that, that develops there. And similarly with plant based meat, I think you'll, you'll see a similar thing where you know, you have ingredients for instance, that come from a B2B supply chain, uh, becoming more prevalent. And perhaps some of those come from cellular agriculture, uh, either cultivated fat for instance, or proteins, uh, like those created by a perfect day and Clara foods that are animal proteins source from fermentation. But then play a role in, uh, other, other plant based foods or their own standalone products. Um, and so those are all sort of B2B models that you know, are based off of certain segments of the technology that play and that will continue to play an important role in the, the growth and as, as you mentioned, the sort of, yeah, lowering the risk of the whole ecosystem, uh, as it grows.
Cool. And obviously, um, we've spoken a lot about the real technical bottlenecks and those four areas that you mentioned in terms of culture, meat and in terms of prime based meat. But a question that comes up a few times and generates quite a lot of controversy I guess is the one of timelines and estimates of when these products are actually going to be available and cost competitive with the conventional animal alternatives. So there's a report by animal charity evaluators from 2017 and they estimated that it was 55% likely that within 20 years we would have cost competitive ground cultured meat for whole pieces of muscle tissue. They estimated more like 30% within the 20 year timeframe. Yeah. What are your thoughts on those timelines estimates?
Yeah. Obviously it's, it's hard to predict, but um, yeah, 20 years for cost competitive ground meat is, is way too long. Um, as I alluded to, I think those costs will come down within the next two to five years quite, quite dramatically. Um, and so I can see cost competitive products, uh, being produced within the next five, 10 years depending on what products you're creating. Obviously, you know, beef and other high end products are going to be the first ones to hit that price parody before something like chicken does. But um, yeah, those costs I think are going to come down quite significantly. Again, when you think about, as I mentioned, the scale of the industry and you do some back of the envelope calculations with the amount of infrastructure that might need to be created to actually meet the demands of even 5% of the global meat demand in 2030 or something like that.
You're talking about a lot of infrastructure and a lot of dollars. And so those timeframes are the amount of, uh, actual displacement of conventional animal agriculture products might work at a solar pace in the early years for cultivated meat certainly than it would for plant based meat and fermentation. I think the way to look at it overall if across the alternative protein sectors at each of these new products are going to contribute to the future food that we eat and the future meat that we eat. And uh, yeah, the, the amount of market share that these sort of technologies eventually take up I think are subject to change on those, those sort of different timescales where, you know, of course you're going to have plant based meat dominance first of all because they already exist. Um, and then slowly you'll start seeing more fermentation in cultivated meat products, uh, get on the market.
There's a big question on, you know, can plant based meat products, you know, meet the demands and needs of consumers. When you talk about whole muscle products, uh, steaks and things like that, are cultivated meat products required for that? I think it's anyone's bad. I think, you know, in my opinion those are achievable by plant based methods. Um, and a lot of things will be achievable by plant based methods based off of uh, you know, kind of what we talked around the just the low amount of diversity that actually plays a role in, in terms of the raw inputs for that industry right now and that potential for growth in different combinations to meet different product needs in the future.
Okay. And obviously it's, it's an area you're slightly less expert in yourself, but as we've discussed high tech plant-based meats are still not quite there, we don't think, in terms of kind of exact taste comparison and, and I believe in terms of cost comparisons as well, a lot of these products are still pretty expensive. So yeah. Do you have thoughts on the timelines for those things once when even let's even just focus on some of the more developed plant based products like the burgers, you know, impossible beyond that sort of thing. Do you have thoughts about when they'll be able to almost perfect those technologies so that they are comparable in terms of tastes and cost?
Yeah, I think and, and as you alluded to, I think all of these things are coming down their own individual cost curves and those are different timescales and also somewhat product dependent. So if you look at interviews with Pat Brown or Ethan Brown from Impossible and, uh, you know, Beyond Meat respectively, I think, you know, they generally refer to cost competitiveness or under cutting the conventional meat market within the next three to five years in the plant based meat. The answer there's largely due to manufacturing capacity. Um, and then somewhat due to, you know, supply chain and the raw materials that you are using. You know, obviously if you're replacing a beef product, it's going to be easier to reach those price points since those are just more expensive as is then something like a chicken nugget. But, uh, I'm not sure if Christie talked about it, but you know, obviously she's going after the chicken nugget markets.
I'm not sure what her timescales are exactly, but obviously, uh, you know, if you do the, um, the back of the envelope calculations that I'm sure those, uh, those founders are doing, I'm sure that they see a path to undercutting those products from a cost curve, competitiveness nature in, in just, you know, several years or else you're not really going to be able to raise the sort of venture capital dollars that flow into these industries. And the same sort of points, you know, fermentation to produce complex proteins like whey or case in or out or albumin proteins that are used, uh, in, in egg white replacements. Um, those are coming down the cost curve as well. I don't know the exact numbers there, but if you look at the recent report by rethink X, which talks about precision proteins, they predict that you can get to $10 per kilo and by 2025, I think in some people with expertise in that field think that that's a fairly optimistic outlook.
But I think regardless, once you're able to hit those price points, which are surely I think in the five to 10 year realm, that you become cost competitive and eventually undercut your conventional meat products as well. And you also have to understand and think about how the animal meat industry is going to change. Once you know more and more of their market share becomes decreased. Different sort of externalities that can happen. Uh, you know, for instance, the Corona virus is a great example of that and how it's impacting the meat industry. All of those things can contribute to raising the costs of conventional meat, which then accelerate greatly the timelines that these other ultimately more resilient technologies are able to provide from a cost perspective. And then, yeah, I think there's additional considerations as you mentioned around taste part. For me to put a timeline on taste for things like plant based meat.
Now I just don't know too much about the bottlenecks there per se. And then obviously the product type around whole muscle cuts. Uh, you've heard impossible maybe in recent interviews talk about that. They're not afraid of going after making a steak. Uh, so obviously they think it's feasible to do so cultivated meat, certainly making a steak or complex piece of tissue is going to remain a challenge for I think over 10 years from now. But, uh, again I think there's, there's a path there. Um, and eventually things will, uh, I think eventually things will reach cost parody and in most cases under cut the conventional meat market as you go further out in the future.
Okay, cool. And we've obviously been flip flopping between speaking about culture to me and high-tech promise meets that sort of thing. But from the perspective of movement wide strategy concerns about the estimates of when if ever cultivated meat will become cost competitive. Conventional animal products lead some individuals to prioritize plant-based products over cultivated meat. You obviously don't agree with those concerns to the same extent. Uh, on the other hand, you might think that cultivated meat offers a sort of higher risk, high return strategy. Given the many uncertainties involved, the animal advocacy movement and proponents of animal free food technologies probably need to continue to invest substantial resources into both those approaches. But do you have a view on the yeah, just the kind of overarching priority for the movement? Should we be prioritizing investing more resources and directing our talented researchers towards plant based or cellular agriculture? And obviously it's going to be both to some extent, but it's never going to be a 50:50 split. So yeah. Do you lean in either direction?
Yeah, I mean it really depends on your priorities I think. Um, and, and where they lie, I think from an organizational standpoint, GFI obviously invests, um, you know, fairly equally across that. And then if you look across, you know, private industry and the dollars flowing in, as we mentioned, there's a lot more going to plant based meat. Um, you know, obviously it's a more mature industry. It exists and yeah, as you mentioned, it's a lower risk. So in, in some respects, you know, you could argue that that trend should continue, um, you know, plant based meats here and you should probably have a higher disproportionate amount of dollars that flow in there. Maybe you, you know, begin to equate those over time as the cultivated meat becomes less risky and more concrete. My personal opinion, I think, um, you know, it's smart to spread out as, as, as much as possible still.
Um, especially in terms of the sort of R&D that happens in academia that really props up these industries and, and makes translatable technologies and, and knowledge gained because ultimately this is a, this is a long game, right? Uh, you know, generally the outlooks for, you know, making a very big, significant impact on animal agriculture is, you know, 2040, 2050, et cetera. It's going to take time for these technologies to mature, for the infrastructure to be built, uh, et cetera. And so the more that you heavily invest now across the board, across each of these fundamental technologies, you're going to have larger and larger returns as you extend that over larger timeframes. So yeah, I mean, if you were looking to make an impact now in the next five, 10 heavily invest in plant based meat, if you're looking to make larger impacts in the next 30, 40, 50 years and beyond, um, and you might want to spread yourself more equally.
Okay. We've spoken at various points about career priorities as well. Uh, but I want to revisit that again from this kind of overarching perspective. Beyond the technical qualifications and the academic slash professional career routes that we've been speaking about. Do you have any thoughts about what the personal skills and characteristics are that would make somebody an excellent researcher in the cultured or high-tech plant based meat space?
Uh, I think, um, you know, when people come to this industry, uh, you know, they're, they're generally aware of the implications that it has on animal welfare, climate change, um, you know, human health as it relates to antibiotics or foodborne illness or zoonotic disease, et cetera. So they're generally quite motivated from a mission perspective. And that actually makes them, I think, well-suited starting out to be, you know, good researchers in this space because you have to be fairly resilient because a lot of people are going to tell you that you can't, you know, you're, you're crazy. You know, I go to conferences that are, um, you know, stem cell focused, et cetera, and, you know, people just come up to you and tell you like, what are you doing? You're, this is never going to work. How do you think you're going to make the costs decrease for cultivated meat, et cetera.
But again, as I mentioned, if he put more time into understanding and doing those sorts of calculations, I think it becomes more feasible and, and realizable. You know, you have to be a little resilient against criticism and, uh, against this, this fairly significant scientific challenges that, uh, underpin a lot of these industries. But I think that is supported by, you know, the, the sort of motivations that people come in. It's harder to, to knock them off the horse, so to speak. When you, when you have that sort of mission alignment that's, that's motivating you behind it.
Yeah. And if somebody has that mission in alignment, say they're really motivated to help animals and they have scientific expertise in some of the areas we've talked about, you know, whether it's the molecular biology, the tissue engineering, all those sorts of different specific career routes we've spoken about, they have some of that expertise. Do you think that there are other plausibly high-impact career paths for animals that would utilize these same skillsets?
Yeah. Well, I mean, aside from the things that we've been classically talking about these core research areas for cultivated meat, I mean, you know, not everyone's is going to be involved in science. Maybe science is not their thing. Um, and there's a variety of different disciplines in ways that I think you can contribute. Obviously on the policy side of things. Um, and, and the law, legal side of things, there's a variety of different paths there to have an impact. We need people in the state legislatures of different countries, sorry to understand these technologies and you need people that are going to communicate these ideas to them effectively from a policy standpoint. Um, so you know, that's why we have a policy team at GFI for instance. I also think there's other areas in, you know, social sciences and environmental sciences, let's say that you can contribute.
So consumer acceptance is one area that has, you know, been fairly well studied, but it's a very important area because that sort of research really guides, um, the companies in this sector that they're heavily invested in R and D from the technical standpoint. Uh, and so they rely a lot on that sort of data that comes from these consumer research studies that are conducted by, you know, people with different sets of expertise. Similarly in, you know, the environmental sciences, you need people that understand the technology. Um, and then as it relates to sustainability and conducting these life cycle assessments that are going to be so important, I think in persuading more and more people and governments to be convinced of the sustainability implications of these technologies. And I think also related to that all is that these are nascent technologies, not a lot of people know about them still.
And you have an opportunity from a career perspective to really carve yourself out as an expert in that space. And that from a career perspective can be quite rewarding if you're someone that's early in this sort of understanding of the regulatory component of cultivated meat, you're just one of a few individuals worldwide that has that knowledge capacity. You become an expert in that field and you sort of, if you do believe that it's going to be big in the future, then you know, you're likely to be, uh, well off from, uh, you know, off to a good start from a career perspective. Uh, and I think that applies to any sort of different area of focus that you might, uh, turn towards these alternative proteins and become an expert in, in that certain, uh, segment.
Okay. Yeah. Do you have any other thoughts on other reasons we haven't discussed why somebody might or might not be a good fit for work in the more kind of technical scientific research relating to animal free food technologies?
Yeah, I mean, you know, at its core, these are fairly technical disciplines when you really get get into it. Um, and so that is definitely not, not fit for anyone, uh, or for, for everyone I should say. And so, yeah, I think what's, what's cool about the industry as, as we kind of just discussed, is that there's so many different opportunities, um, and aspects and areas, uh, that, that this touches upon that I think, you know, whether you're a scientist doing a PhD route or you just have a bachelor's degree or some understanding of the technology in an, in another field, there's still going to be career opportunities for you as they relate to these, these industries as they grow.
How transferable do you think the career capital and the experience is between academia roles at startups and nonprofit roles at GFI or new harvest? Obviously there's fewer of those latter option, but yeah. How transfer transferable is it between those different paths?
Yeah, I think each of them affords, um, you know, perhaps different scopes of learning. So, you know, at least at GFI I've been able to, you know, interface with so many people, um, from different backgrounds and investors, uh, life science companies, startup companies, et cetera. Um, that you get a really well rounded sort of global picture of, of what's going on. And then if you're more at a, at a startup or you're in academia, it's more project focused. It might be a little bit more precise in what you're deep diving into in terms of the knowledge that you're gaining and who you're interacting with, um, on your teams or within your project. So in, in some respects, I think working at a nonprofit can enable you to see the whole picture a little bit better if that's what you're trying to get a better understanding for.
Whereas if you're on a research project in academia or you're working at a startup, you're going to be a lot more focused in, in your goals and the work that you're doing on a day to day basis. Um, I guess with that all said, I think the career capital, let's say in its transferability is still high between each where, you know, if you start in academia you can switch to industry and you can switch to nonprofit. Um, and then vice versa. I, I think, um, obviously some of the people at GFI have gone and started their own companies. Likewise, I think, uh, people at startups are looking to, um, sometimes switch out of that if it doesn't work for them and they would find themselves well positioned for a career in the nonprofit sector as well. So, um, I'd say high transferability but somewhat different focuses on, uh, that you might do in your day to day.
Yeah, it makes sense. And then what about between cultured meat and plant based foods? Is there still transferability there? So, for example of the refer to GFI student guide, a few times of the 18 different areas of expertise that it lists for various purposes, only four are listed for both cultivated meat and plant based meat. And those four are genetic engineering, computational science, molecular biology and mechanical engineering. Would you agree that for scientists who have already developed particular skills, your expertise might be fairly obviously more directly applicable to one area or the other? Or is there more transferability between those areas than I'm giving credit for?
Uh, no, I think they actually are quite segmented. Um, they are, they are kind of in different domains. Aside from those four that you mentioned there, there is some overlap there, um, in directions that you can take it. But you know, it's part of the reason why I specialize in, cultivated meat as a senior scientist in my, in my position, um, because quite frankly, I just don't have the amount of background knowledge to be a plant based senior scientist or to have that, you know, that level attached to, um, to a title. I think it's an individual that comes more from that background and those are uh, ultimately separate backgrounds.
Yeah. We spoke earlier about your recommendation for people kind of if they are interested in the space and they've got things to say, writing up somewhere, whether it's a blog, website, whatever, and actually just really dipping their toes in the water in that sense. Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations for ways that people can test out their personal fit in this area of technical research, animal free food technologies, and if they'd be able to excel at this kind of work?
Yeah, I think, you know, people need to dip their toes in a, in a research lab environment. I think that's important. Um, if you're an undergraduate, um, and you're, you're starting out, you're getting an interest in, in this space. A good way is, you know, to just, uh, try to get an internship at a, at a research research opportunity at a university in any lab really. Ideally, obviously you want to tailor to what you're most interested in, but just getting your toes wet. What a day to day life is like in the lab I think is somewhat eye opening to a lot of people and it can also help you realize what you're good at and also what you, what you like doing a lot more. So I think people find themselves when they go into research, sometimes it can be quite discouraging because you're so interested in the topic or you know what it is you're, you're studying. But what you're actually doing on a day to day basis is, is perhaps boring or it's too long or it's, it's a struggle and so you get turned off by it. Um, and, and being able to figure that out, um, you know, ahead of time and at an early point in time is, is valuable from a career perspective.
Yeah. Uh, on that point of the concrete opportunities people might have for starting some work in this area, GFI has a list of companies working on animal free food tech, which I'm sure could be really helpful for people interested looking for jobs or looking for opportunities. You've also got a job sport opportunities at some of these companies. And I've recently seen that GFI now has a page on academic labs that lists 43 different academic labs institutions working on animal free food tech, which is more than the comparable list of universities working in his area on the new protein landscape maps created by the global alternative food awards, which is what I was previously relying on for the sort of most up to date list of, um, the, all the different academic departments working on this issue. Do you know if all of those 43 labs are working directly on animal free food tech research or some of them on that list just doing kind of adjacent work?
Yeah, so that, that database that we're, that we're building out is specifically for research projects in those labs, uh, are, are working on animal free food tech specifically. Obviously not all of their lab is focused on that. In some cases it might just be one graduate student or two or a post doc that has a project going on. But it shows that, you know, these are the researchers that are interested and have ongoing projects, uh, in their labs. And so, yeah, we were trying to use that as a, a really guide to, um, help students find research labs that they can actually go to because it's something we get asked a lot. Um, and because there are so few researchers, it's very hard to find. And so we're, we're hopefully co-leading that information, um, you know, to, to help students out as well as to help, uh, you know, researchers get students that are, that are mission driven and want to work on these projects.
In many cases we've found that the labs that go and get funding from our program, for instance, they were driven to apply to the program because they had a graduate student in their lab that wanted to do the work. So students can have a lot of force here to, to drive the research direction of their labs by just telling their PI or their advisor that, "this is what I want to work on; hey, here's this opportunity, uh, at GFI" or at the NSF or wherever it is that you, you know, see a funding opportunity that you can hopefully find in our database that we're tracking. Uh, for funding opportunities as well. Um, and that really kick-starts the R&D in that lab and gets them going in that sector. So in addition to that, we're also putting together a database for courses. Uh, so where are courses happening in, in academia and we're tracking I think over 16 across the plant based and cultivated meat sectors.
And what's great is that some of those are going to be hands on courses where you know, they're actually designed to be a hands on experiments that you're doing to really better understand the technology. A good example of that was a course that was developed by some students in David Kaplan's lab at Tufts university. Um, and they, you know, worked hard on developing sort of, you know, many experiments that help you understand what it is to, to make cultivated meat and you're doing that sort of hands on research. So we want to try to replicate that sort of, um, framework into other courses and really spread that throughout universities across the globe.
Cool. That all sounds really exciting. Do you have any other concrete tips for how people can best seek to actually enter roles and enter yeah, enter this space if they do have the right experience and skills already, how can they actually get their foot in the door?
Yeah, do one of the things I haven't mentioned yet is that, you know, we put a lot of time at GFI in, uh, thinking about what are the white space opportunities. Those are either research projects or business ideas that businesses should be started to fill in this technical gap, et cetera. And so we'll be rolling out essentially a very, the results of a very longterm, um, project that tries to basically summarize those ideas. What are the most high impact ideas, um, segmented by industry. Here's a short description of what it is, why it's impactful, um, why you should go start a company over it, et cetera. And that will hopefully really bring in a new round of entrepreneurs to this space and a new round of people in academia addressing these kinds of core problems that were identified not only by us, internally at GFI, but from a variety of external stakeholders that we interviewed throughout the process. So we try to make it try to create less friction between, you know, how do I get into this industry in a variety of different ways. Um, and a lot of it is around those sort of database building, tracking, academic labs, et cetera. But component of that is focused on, you know, what are the ideas that need to be solved in this industry? Nicely summarized. I'm so excited for that resource to be out in the next a couple of months, let's say.
Okay. So overall across all the different technical bottlenecks and areas that we've spoken about, uh, scaling up the successful sale of development and eventually sale of cultured meat / cellular agriculture products in that area. Which forms of expertise, academic and professional do you think are overall most urgently needed? And yeah, that we most need to sort of redirect talent to if people are, say they're just starting their career and they've got lots of different opportunities, they could sort of pick between those different options. They haven't developed particularly specialized expertise yet. Yeah. Any thoughts?
Yeah, I mean, I, as I think, as I mentioned, a sort of overarching thing is revolved around, you know, capacity and mode of manufacturing. And I think that entails a lot more engineers coming into the fold. Um, you know, for cultivated meat at least, uh, and even for other disciplines, you get a lot of just raw biology backgrounds, uh, biochemistry, that sort of thing. I think we need now a greater influx of engineers to really figure out how to scale this industry, um, efficiently and affordably and, uh, yeah, I think engineering, you know, whatever suits you, the best, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, whatever you're good at, um, or whatever you're most interested in, those are all really going to be great opportunities as this industry expands over the next, uh, five, 10 years.
Cool. And it's a suggestion by Marie Gibbons in her 80,000 hours podcast interview was that the thing that's probably most important is to find something that you're interested in and you're good at and you're passionate about and then apply it to the field. And this makes me wonder, we've talked about some of the more directly applicable areas and we've talked about, yeah, with those different bottlenecks, what seems most applicable to those particular bottlenecks. What do you think is the value of taking riskier career decisions? Just trying to get really good at something that's less obviously relevant, some less obviously relevant scientific field and then applying that to the fields of cellular agriculture or plant-based meat compared to just seeking out those more directly, obviously applicable career pathways?
Yeah, it's, it's a good question. Um, definitely something to think about in general. I agree with, um, you know, what, what Marie said, I think that's generally the advice that I give as well. And you're going to have maybe a higher rate of success. But you know, in terms of career satisfaction, let's say if you're just doing something that you're good and passionate about, et cetera. But I think, you know, especially for the more entrepreneurial minded when you take talk about taking riskier career decisions, I think there's a lot of opportunity still around figuring out the best ways to do these sorts of things. Obviously impossible foods and Pat Brown saw that, you know, why are we trying to just create plant based meat products by mashing things together. What we should really be doing is creating meat from the ground up from plants and really understanding that deeply.
And I think that was a crazy perspective when he first started. And in a similar vein, I think there's different, um, sorts of crazy ideas that might, that people might have to scale up and make manufacturing capacity more efficient and affordable for these technologies. So from a career decision, you might not necessarily know how to do that from an engineering perspective, but you can have an idea about how to do that and you can communicate that idea and you can start a business around that idea and it might be the right idea. I think the way that we do things now isn't necessarily the way that art is going to be done in, you know, 10 years from now. And so there's a lot of opportunity to sort of think outside the box, um, and not just, you know, go into the hive mind of what everyone else is doing or what comes from other fields, um, that were not necessarily really invented for, uh, these technologies. Uh, and to develop those ideas in your brain. And even if you don't have the necessary technical background, I think you can still communicate that to technical people. Um, and, uh, yeah, eventually get buy into your idea, start a business around it. And maybe that's the one.
So do you think that sort of innovative perspective, the riskier career decisions would apply more to the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and those ideas of finding a new Avenue for a company or that sort of thing as opposed to say, taking just a whole different research discipline and just develop, you know, working on a PhD in that, and getting some expertise and then saying, "okay, I've developed this expertise, uh, and now I'm going to look for ways to apply that to cultured meat or plant-based meat." Do you think, I mean, do you think that that's realistic or is that just kind of shooting yourself in the foot if you're keen to work in this area?
I think it can work in some cases. Um, but I think it's, it's harder to get hyper-focused on one thing that you do during your PhD and then try to backtrack it and apply it to another area versus upfront thinking about the different possibilities that could exist, um, and then dwindling those down to something that you eventually pursue. So I think yeah, at least in my mind, the, the risk, your career decisions type of like that, that sort of idea is, is more around this sort of entrepreneurial spirit. Um, I think, you know, the things that you might do a PhD for are generally going to fit more better in the, in the fields that we already understand apply to these things. But, you know, maybe I'm not thinking deeply enough about it.
We've gone into a lot of detail on a lot of these things and I don't want to take up too much of your time or our listeners' time. So I'm going to say thank you very much for joining us on the Sentience Institute podcast, Elliot.
Well thanks a lot for having me. It was great to have a in depth discussion on these things and yeah, I'd just um, encourage people to check out all the resources, um, you know, that we produce and in some of the ones that are in the pipeline, I think, uh, you know, we got a lot of great things there and as well as other organizations that are supporting this industry. So yeah, hope you can con hope the listeners can eventually contribute as well.
Likewise. Great. Thanks again.
Thanks for listening. There were a number of resources that Sentience Institute has been working on that are related to the topic of successfully bringing high quality animal free food technologies to market. We've now published three technology adoption case studies focused on nuclear power, genetically modified foods and biofuels. These reports have a variety of strategic implications for the proponents of animal free food technology, including marketers, entrepreneurs and researchers who are interested in ensuring that these technologies are successfully brought to market and displace conventional animal products. We've also finished data collection for an online experiment examining the effects of animal free food technology on animal farming opposition, which we expect will be published shortly if it has not already been published by the time this episode airs. And somewhat relatedly, in my capacity as co-founder and researcher at the new nonprofit Animal Advocacy Careers, I've been working on a "skills profile" about technical research in animal free food technology, which will help people to think about whether this is the right career path for them and share some advice about how to successfully enter this area. This will be released sometime in the next few months, so sign up for Animal Advocacy Careers' newsletter if you want to be alerted when it is released. I'd like to thank Claire Yip, co-founder of Cellular Agriculture UK, for looking through my planned questions for this episode to check the my scientific understanding was roughly on the right track. I hope you enjoyed this episode. You can subscribe to The Sentience Institute podcast in iTunes, Stitcher, or other podcast apps.