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Mermade Seafoods is perfecting technology to produce lab-grown shellfish at prices that consumers will be able to afford (Mermade Seafoods)
Mermade Seafoods is perfecting technology to produce lab-grown shellfish at prices that consumers will be able to afford (Mermade Seafoods)

Savory, cultured seafood that won’t break the bank

Sustainable process created by Israeli startup Mermade uses recycling to grow seafood cells in the lab more efficiently

Consumer interest in buying sustainable, lab-grown meat and seafood is growing – but the price tag can be a deal-breaker.

Mermade Seafoods, an Israeli company that grows shellfish from cells in a lab, says it can ease sticker shock with technology that will slash production costs.

Lab-grown food is created by collecting a cell sample from top-quality shellfish and cultivating more cells by fermenting them in a growth media – a nutrient-rich environment where they develop flavors and nutritional qualities, turning into shellfish. What makes production so expensive is the growth media, explains Mermade CEO Daniel Einhorn. Mermade has developed a process in which it can be re-used again and again.

“That’s really where our secret sauce is,” says Einhorn. “We have developed a proprietary recycling system that allows us to reuse the waste from cell fermentation. Our process is semi-continuous, and the capacity is endless.”

Mermade plans to be commercial by 2025. The company has so far raised $1.5 million, and is planning another finance round next year to build its first commercial production system.

Lab-grown proteins are attracting huge amounts of interest and investment as people seek to mitigate the damage that food production is causing to the planet.

Marine environment

Meat production causes air and water pollution, deforestation that destroys natural habitats and kills off species, and ocean dead zones. Overfishing is hurting the marine environment and depleting fish stocks faster than they can be replenished.

BlueNalu, a cell-based seafood startup in the US, recently signed an agreement to develop and market sushi-grade products with Japan’s Food & Life Companies, a multinational restaurant chain.

Yet while many people have overcome the psychological barrier of eating cultured or plant-based meat and fish, and companies are closely replicating the taste and texture of the original, the benefits of sustainability can be outweighed by high production costs.

Until now, the growth media used to cultivate lab-grown meat and seafood were derived from animals, says Dr. Tomer Halevy, Mermade’s COO. Mermade uses plant-based components instead.

“I thought, why not create an entire biological cycle as it exists in nature, but at the cellular level,” Halevy says.

“We can grow animal cells and move their waste products to cultivate plant cells. These plant cells take the waste of the animal cells and turn it into essential food elements such as proteins, sugars and fatty acids,” he says. “We then harvest those nutrient-rich plant cells and feed our cells with them, creating a fully recyclable and sustainable production process we term ‘cytoponics’.”

Cost efficient

Being able to reuse the growth media is key to making the entire process cost efficient, he says. The price of the finished product must be comparable if people are to switch from conventional seafood to cultured meat and fish.

“We feel we should be doing better for our diet, the animals and the planet,” says Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, Director of the Grass Center for Bioengineering at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“When a solution comes and says cultured meat tastes the same, it will cost the same, and you can do what you did before but without the guilt, why wouldn’t you want to do that?” he asks. Nahmias also works for Future Meat Technologies funded by Tyson Foods, which is working on bringing cultivated chicken to the market.

Alternative seafood companies can expect growing demand. The United Nations forecast that fish consumption would grow nearly 20 percent between 2018 and 2030. More than a third of the world’s stocks are already overfished.

Mermade will initially produce scallops, an $8 billion market.
“Scallops are easier to produce as a cultured product that looks and tastes like traditional seafood, because scallops are uniform in size and shape”, says Dr. Rotem Kadir, Mermade’s Chief Technology Officer. “Once we perfect the process, we will diversify to other seafood products.”
While competitors may have more financing, starting with scallops is an inspired choice, Kadir says.

“By using this simpler food, we have a good chance of being the first to market with any cultured meat,” he said. “By the time the bigger companies are struggling with these other more complex meat products, we will be able to produce tens of tons of scallops, closing a gap of a two-year head start or more.”

Kosher consumers, take heart: Einhorn says a solution will be found that will enable them to eat this previously forbidden treat.

Mermade is raising an investment round through OurCrowd, the Jerusalem-based equity investing platform. For more information, click HERE.

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