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How Cutting-Edge Science Can Solve the Looming Protein Crisis

With the global population expected to reach 10bn by 2050, demand for food is set to increase by over 70% over the coming decades. To meet this demand, it is estimated that meat production will need to double while dairy & fish production will need to almost triple. Simultaneously, we will have to manage the ongoing effects of climate change that come with livestock methane emissions, as well as the land and water use involved in traditional livestock farming. This looming protein crisis presents major environmental and food security concerns for the world, which only cutting-edge science can help to address. Cultivated meat offers a viable solution while also contributing to some of the key UN Sustainable Development Goals, including (3) Zero Hunger, (13) Climate Action, (14) Life Below Water, and (15) Life on Land.

Enter Roslin Technologies. Launched in 2017 as the largest European AgTech start-up, Roslin Tech is based in Edinburgh’s Midlothian Science Zone, the largest single concentration of animal science in Europe. The company has a close partnership with the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, which is famous for cloning Dolly the sheep. Through this connection, Roslin Tech has unique access rights to IP emanating from the world-class research of both the Roslin Institute and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies to develop innovations with commercial potential.

Roslin Innovation Center

Roslin Innovation Center

Today, Roslin Tech develops disruptive biotechnologies for the AgTech and FoodTech markets with the aim to improve how we produce proteins. They are driven by a vision of the world where everyone has access to affordable, nutritious, and responsibly produced food. The shift towards alternative protein sources, such as cultivated meat, is accelerating. By sustainably and safely meeting the food needs of a rapidly expanding global population, Roslin Tech estimates that just cultivated meat alone can reach a value of $25-100bn by 2030 with further alternative protein markets being developed.

Roslin Tech’s core capabilities are in animal stem cells and genomics. They have developed the world’s first perpetually self-renewing, pluripotent stem cells for animals that will accelerate the development of cultivated meat. Their unique technology allows for the development of cell lines from multiple species including pig and cow. Additionally, they also work on superior breeding stock for insect protein production, another key piece of the alternative protein market.

Cultivated meat (also known as cultured or lab-grown meat) is comprised of animal cells, but grown outside of the animal in controlled laboratory settings. Cells are isolated via simple biopsy from a living animal and then cultured in vitro, without harming the animal. By adding specific factors into the media, the cells are then grown over time. They are stimulated to differentiate into muscle or fat, or other types of cells as required. Following this, the cells are harvested and assembled into a traditional meat format with the help of tissue engineering. This gives cultivated meat the ability to revolutionise the food industry – offering a sustainable way to produce meat that has the taste and texture of its traditional counterpart, while reducing the need for animals in the process.

Cultivated meat offers a viable solution while also contributing to some of the key UN Sustainable Development Goals, including (3) Zero Hunger, (13) Climate Action, (14) Life Below Water, and (15) Life on Land.

The main challenge with producing cultivated meat today lies in the expenses involved in scaling up the production to meet the growing demand for food. The volumes of stem cells currently being produced are optimised for small-scale applications. When it comes to manufacturing the quantity of cells needed for commercial food supply, the costs involved increase until economies of scale are reached.

Cutting Edge Science

Cutting Edge Science at Roslin Technologies

The lack of publicly available cell lines is the key gatekeeper in getting new companies to enter the field however, and commercially available iPS cell lines are a key requirement for the cultivated meat industry going forward. This is the area in which Roslin Tech has chosen to dedicate its resources, positioning itself as the first-to-market provider to these aspiring new ventures. Moreover, the stem cells produced by Roslin Tech are undifferentiated cells that have the intrinsic capacity to self-renew, meaning they can continuously divide and develop into the different types of cells required by the cultivated meat industry.

Another challenge is optimising the taste and nutritional value of cultivated meat. Further research in profiling the cells is required for producing more complex meats like a steak which has a more intricate texture and flavor profile versus a hamburger patty, for example.

Roslin Tech’s core capabilities are in animal stem cells and genomics. They have developed the world’s first perpetually self-renewing, pluripotent stem cells for animals that will accelerate the development of cultivated meat.

Despite such challenges, Roslin Tech’s understanding of stem cells and their cultivation has been rapidly evolving and has continued to grow since cultivated meat was first unveiled in 2013. As these cell lines begin to be mass-produced, the costs of the technology involved is expected to fall, which in turn will help the technology to be widely adopted by the marketplace.

The worldwide meat market is worth ~$945 billion per annum and the new ‘meat alternatives’ market, such as plant-based meat recently hyped by the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, is estimated to generate $3.2 billion per annum, with a predicted annual growth of 17%.

Lab technicians at Roslin Technologies Lab

Lab Technician at Roslin Technologies Lab

Comparably, Roslin Tech predicts that cultivated meat, an industry that has already received over $500 million in investments over the last 3 years, could expect a similar market size and growth trajectory once commercialised, and potential hybrid products will allow for even greater market penetration. The advances in bioprocessing technology and the growing awareness of the environmental and ethical benefits of cultivated meat are helping to increase the social acceptance of its consumption.

Roslin Tech is planning its Series A investment round in Autumn 2021, which follows an initial £10 million seeding in 2017. The raise will support the transition from research to commercialisation of their cultivated meat technology.

Disclosure: The author’s firm, Milltrust International LLP, is an investor in Roslin Technologies

Alexander Kalis is the Managing Partner and co-founder of Milltrust International LLP, a London and Singapore-based investment manager focused on ‘Sustainable Prosperity’, where he manages The Climate Impact Asia Fund in partnership with WWF-Hong Kong, The British Innovation Fund, focused on University science and technology ventures, and Sustainable Agriculture funds.

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