CRISPR Beef – A Breakthrough in Scalability and Affordability of Cultured Meat
For the first time, the genetic modification of meat cells using the CRISPR method has been successfully demonstrated in an experimental setting, addressing two of the main obstacles facing the cultured meat industry: the problem of large-scale production and the high cost of the end product. These two issues have been tackled head-on by the start-up SCiFi Foods, which modified the production process to obtain an affordable, cruelty- and animal-free burger. The product can be produced quickly and is identical – in terms of taste and nutritional properties – to meat obtained from living animals.
Unlike “traditional” lab-grown meat, SciFi Foods’ beef burger combines genetically modified cultured beef cells and plant-based ingredients. The genetic modification of the beef cells, achieved with CRISPR technology, enables them to multiply in suspension, that is, without the need for microcarriers (usually plastic beads) that are generally used for growing non-genetically modified cells. This allows a larger number of cells to grow within the limited space of a bioreactor.
The resulting beef is blended with plant-based ingredients, thus allowing the finished product to be obtained much faster and potentially in larger quantities than allowed by current processes used by other players in this sector, making it easily scalable and cost-effective at a price of about US$10 per burger in the pilot stage, which the company hopes to reduce to US$1 once large-scale production begins.
With these promising premises, the company plans to open a pilot plant in the San Francisco Bay Area by the second half of 2024. SciFi Foods is confident it will receive the go-ahead from US regulators to launch its genetically modified cultured burgers on the market. US policymakers are more accepting of GMOs than consumers in Europe. Whether the product will succeed in European markets remains to be seen for now. The EU published a report in 2021 signaling the desire to revise current GMO regulation. This bodes well for GMO-enhanced cultured meat products, but the final decision on approval in the EU will also depend on the outcome of the ongoing public consultation.
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