More and more companies are beginning to harvest animal products from cell cultures instead of animals themselves as a way to provide affordable and sustainable food to a growing population, while also tackling issues such as greenhouse gases emissions, overfishing and animal welfare concerns.
Finless Foods, founded this year in San Francisco, is on a mission to develop and mass manufacture pioneering marine animal food products for human consumption. Using cellular agriculture methods, co-founders Michael Selden and Brian Wyrwas aim to prevent the environmental devastation currently caused by industrial fishing and aquaculture. They hope to create a kinder, more efficient, and more sustainable food system for everyone.
Why is cellular agriculture (the harvesting of animal products from cell cultures, not animals) such an exciting field to be part of at the moment?
Animal agriculture is one of the most harmful things that humanity does to the planet. Cellular agriculture is the ultimate answer to this, and it’s achievable in our lifetimes. It’s also an amazing field to work in because it attracts some of the most driven and passionate people in the world. It’s a very close-knit community who all are extremely committed to the same goal, it’s amazing how welcoming and collaborative it is. You feel like you’re on the ground floor of something big and worthwhile, and having collaborators who feel the same is incredibly affirming.
Looking forward, in which area of cellular agriculture do you see the most potential for growth?
Well, all of it really, nobody’s even on the market yet. Personally I think fish is the easiest animal to tackle but maybe I’m a bit biased. The field is a bit empty now, there’s loads of room for new companies to come in and go for animals that haven’t been worked on. I think once these initial few companies prove how possible this kind of product is many more will follow. I look forward to the day when this is a crowded field of scientists all trying to outdo each other in making cheaper and more delicious / healthy clean meats etc.
Can you tell us about your projects at Finless Foods and the technology to make seafood from stem cells?
Basically we take a small sample from a real fish, isolate just the fast-growing cells that we’re looking for, grow them out, differentiate them into the cell types that people like to eat, and then structure them in a way that makes them appetizing. A lot of the research necessary to do this goes into creating a cheap and efficient cellular media, the current standard is not only incredibly expensive but also is made from cow’s blood, which doesn’t at all solve the dependence on animal agriculture we’re trying to fix.
What challenges persist in your field, and what progress has your team – or other peers – made in overcoming them?
Texture will be a big problem, but there’s amazing work going on to solve it even now in these early stages. Scientists in the public sphere are doing wonderful and brilliantly complex work, I’m especially interested in the Pelling lab up in Canada or Jess Krieger in Ohio.
What are the upcoming milestones and long-term priorities for your company?
We’ll be producing the first sashimi prototype in 2018, and then coming onto the market with unstructured fish products in about two years. While these initial foods will be luxury products, we are prioritizing getting affordable clean fish meat onto the market as soon as possible. This isn’t about creating a luxury food for me, this is about changing the way that we as a society eat meat.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other budding young biotech entrepreneurs?
A diversity of opinions is important, surround yourself with people who disagree not only with you but also with each other. No one person is going to be right every time, so have a host of opinions to choose from when making difficult decisions.
What are you most looking forward to at SynBioBeta SF 2017?
I don’t know how I could possibly answer this. The deck is stacked not only with people that I admire but also with many friends of mine whose work I absolutely love. From organizations I watch from afar like Ginkgo Bioworks and iGEM to close friends doing brilliant things like UBA Biologix and MiraculeX to our tight-knit industry represented by Memphis Meats, Geltor, Perfect Day, and Modern Meadow, I don’t really have a good method of picking favorites. It’s going to be an excellent showing of some of the most exciting things going on right now in Biology.
Finless Foods CEO shares his vision for creating sustainable seafood to a panel of investors.0