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Meatable: Lab-grown meat startup overcame slaughter-free meat barrier



burger warShutterstock

  • A new
    lab-grown meat
    startup is taking on the industry’s
    key hurdle
    by coming up with a way to make truly
    slaughter-free meat without relying on cow fetus blood (also
    known as fetal bovine serum).
  • Called Meatable, the Dutch startup was born out of a
    partnership with Cambridge and uses proprietary stem cell
    technology to make faster, cheaper
    lab-grown meat
  • Meatable claims its technology eliminates the need to
    remove any
    tissue from an animal
    — a development that would make it
    the least invasive method for sourcing cells

A handful of startups around the world are racing to make real
meat in facilities that look more like breweries than farms.

In giant steel containers akin to brewer’s vats, cells from pigs,
cows, and chickens will be carefully monitored and multiplied.
Then, they’ll be formed into burgers, sausages, and meatballs —
all without a single animal being slaughtered. At least, that’s

the vision

Until now,
lab-grown meat startups
have faced a key barrier that’s
something of deal-breaker for the industry: the food for the
cells comes from slaughtered cows. Called fetal bovine serum, or
simply “serum,” the liquid remains the standard means of coaxing
animal cells to proliferate. 

The founders of a new startup called Meatable think they’ve found
a way around the serum problem.

Rather than relying on cells that can’t grow without a serum-like
food source, Meatable’s founders use pluripotent stem cells,
which possess the unique ability to turn into any type of cell —
from muscle to fat — without serum.
Other lab-grown meat startups
have avoided using pluripotent
stem cells because they are notoriously hard to control in a lab

Yet the Meatable team claims they’ve developed the secret sauce
to making them behave. It involves proprietary technology created
in partnership with Roger Pedersen, a stem cell biologist and
founder of the University of Cambridge’s Stem Cell Institute, and
Mark Kotter, a Cambridge neurosurgery clinician scientist.

“Serum is out the door for us. We don’t need it in any way,” Daan
Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer, told Business

A team of heavy-hitters in medicine and meat

daan and krjin of meatable
Meatable CTO Daan Luining (let) and CEO Krijn De


Based in the Netherlands, where Dutch researcher Mark Post made
history by creating the
first beef burger from cow cells
, Meatable is stacked
with a team of heavy-hitters in medicine and cell-based meat.

Luining previously worked as a research strategist for the
nonprofit cell-based agriculture foundation New Harvest; Pedersen
founded the first institute for stem cell science at the
University of Cambridge; and Kotter founded Elpis Biomed, a
British biotech startup that specializes in making cells for

“What I saw was too good to be real,” Luining said of his first
meeting with Kotter, when he demonstrated his approach to working
with stem cells. “Then I saw that is was real.”

The company has raised $3.5 million from three venture
capital firms — BlueYard Capital, Atlantic Food Labs, and Backed
VC — and several angel investors, including former Microsoft
strategist Charlie Songhurst and Jörg Mohaupt, who founded global
payment company and Stripe competitor Adyen. 

Faster and cheaper slaughter-free meat?

Olive Garden Meatball Pizza Bowl 4Hollis Johnson/Business

Many cell-based meat companies get the stem cells for their
products from a small piece of tissue taken from a live animal.

Meatable claims it avoids this procedure entirely by sourcing
stem cells from animals’ umbilical cords. This is the same
process that people use to bank a baby’s stem cells at birth.
So-called “cord blood” is collected because the stem cells it
contains can be used to treat a variety of disorders and
conditions ranging from leukemia to sickle cell disease.

“This way, we don’t harm the animals at all, and it’s material
that would otherwise get thrown away,” Krijn De Nood, Meatable’s
CEO, told Business Insider.

The key to Meatable’s approach isn’t merely the way they source
the cells. Instead, it’s how the startup coaxes them into the
right kind of cells — the cells that together makeup the kinds of
tissues that people eat.

“When you have a stem cell, it doesn’t know which program to
run,” Luining said. “Our technology turns on the right program at
the right time.”

For example, if Luining wanted a stem cell to turn into a fat
cell or a muscle cell — two types of cells that are found in
every meat product — he and his team could direct it to do so
using their proprietary technique. 

“You can think of it like running a muscle application or a fat
application,” Luining said.

Meatable plans to start with beef burgers and sausages and then
expand to chicken and pork products. Luining said the technology
will lend itself to scaling up to more complex products like
steak within a few years.

Luining hopes to see those beef products in restaurants in four
years. The startup will likely launch products first in the
Netherlands, where he said the regulatory environment is more
friendly to cell-based products.

“We’re coming back to where it all started,” said Luining.

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