Tobacco plant shows potential to drive down cost of cultivated meat production 

ISRAEL — Tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum) has shown the potential to drive down the cost of cellular meat production, according to Israeli food technology startup BioBetter Ltd. 

BioBetter turns tobacco plants into bioreactors for expression and large-scale production of the proteins.  

It uses a proprietary protein extraction and purification technology to exploit nearly the entire tobacco plant while delivering a high-purity product at broad scale production. 

The proteins can then be used as a hardy vector for producing GFs (growth factors) of non-animal origin which are needed for cells to multiply. 

A 2020 analysis indicated that 55-95% of the cost of cultured meat production could be attributed to the cost of growth media 

In 2013, when the first lab-grown hamburger was produced, it took nearly two years and cost approximately US$375,000.   

While it is difficult to find a consistent cost estimate for a lab-grown burger today, there are estimates between $10-50 per pound or €9 for a burger. 

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If cultivated meat is to compete favorably with conventional meat, then its price has to be lowered to match that of conventual meat which is about US$5 per pound.  

Despite its high cost, consumers are still interested in sampling cultivated meat if it was made available in their jurisdictions. 

A 2020 study conducted by Mosa Meat alongside Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, found that some participants were willing to pay almost 40 percent more for cell-cultured meat than regular meat.  

Participants sampled animal-based meat believing it was “cultured,” indicating that having been informed on the environmental benefits of lab-grown meat, consumers were more encouraged to try it.  

Perceived demand has attracted investors into the sector with a total of US$1.4 billion invested in the sector in 2021 lone.  

Polaris Market Research, New York, now forecasts the global cellular meat market to have a compound annual growth rate of nearly 15% from 2021-28 and reach US$352.4 million. 

BioBetter hopes to achieve this cost parity by providing a cheaper source of growth media for the production of cultivated meat. 

The company sources tobacco plants from local growers but hopes to eventually source the raw material from tobacco growers globally. 

“Nicotiana tabacum is an abundant crop that has no place in the food-and-feed chain due to its extremely bitter taste and content of undesirable alkaloids,” said Amit Yaari, PhD, chief executive officer of BioBetter. 

“The global trend for reducing tobacco smoking also is raising concerns among tobacco growers that the crop might eventually become obsolete. Yet the tobacco plant has huge potential to become a key component in the future of food.” 

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