Israeli startup BioBetter unveils tobacco plant-based technology to enable mass production of cultured meat at reduced costs

Israeli foodtech startup BioBetter from Kiryat Shmona is unveiling a tobacco plant-based platform, which will enable the low-cost mass production of growth factors (GFs) for the cultured meat industry. The company will use the platform to produce growth factors for foodtech companies in order to enable efficient large-scale production of cultured meat, making it a low-priced mass-consumption product for the general public. The company estimates that the new technology will enable the annual production of thousands of tons of growth factors for the cultured meat industry at a cost of $1 per gram.

BioBetter co-founders (from left-to-right): Prof. Oded Shoseyov, Dr. Amit Yaari, Dr. Dana Yarden, and Avi Tzur. Credit: Alexander Seleznyov.

The startup is applying the proprietary technology to express and purify proteins from tobacco plants, in a process that utilizes the entire plant’s green biomass for the production of a high-quality purified product. The technology is based on advanced molecular expression systems and combines large scale, open field cultivation of tobacco plants with proprietary purification technology to enable mass production GFs at very low cost, which will, in turn, dramatically reduce the production costs of cultured meat.

BioBetter was founded by Prof. Oded Shoseyov, a serial entrepreneur and researcher at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Dr. Dana Yarden, MD, MBA, a biotech business expert; and Avi Tzur, an industrialist with an avid vision to put the tobacco plant to positive use and who also was the first investor in the technology.  The company currently employs 23 researchers and has raised $5 million to date from private investors and an institutional VC (Alpha Capital Anstalt), to develop and produce growth factors for the cultured food industry. BioBetter is participating in the Israel Innovation Authority and the Good Food Institute CM development research programs.

Cultivated meat requires culture medium that comprises of a mix of amino acids, nutrients, and — most importantly — growth factors (GFs), without which cells cannot differentiate or proliferate. Currently, these mediums are prohibitively expensive, mainly due to GF costs. Some growth factors can be manufactured by fermentation processes, but these are complex, expensive and entail major CAPEX.

The Good Food Institute (GFI), a non-profit organization that promotes the use of meat alternatives, has calculated that 100-fold reduction in insulin and transferring production costs is necessary to make the cultured meat industry financially viable,” explains Dr. Dana Yarden, MD, co-founder of BioBetter. “It is estimated that growth factors and cell-culture media can constitute 55% to 85% of the marginal cost in manufacturing cell-based foods.”

BioBetter harnesses the natural advantages of the tobacco plant as a bioreactor for protein expression to enable large-scale production. Plant bioreactors are environmentally friendly – exploiting renewable energy (sunlight) and fixating CO2. They are also self-forming, self-sustaining, and biodegradable, producing and storing growth factors until harvest. BioBetter uses open-field plantations to enable fast, efficient, and flexible response to market needs.

“The tobacco plant has clear advantages for the production process of growth factors from a non-animal source,” explains Dr. Amit Yaari, the CEO of BioBetter. “It grows quickly, accumulates a large biomass, and can yield four harvests a year. It is also suited for the production of a large number of complex proteins. The global trend to reduce the smoking of tobacco is causing tobacco farmers, especially in the US, to seek new uses for the plant. The tobacco plant has vast potential to become a key element in the future of food – a future that we at BioBetter will make possible.”

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