Unicorn Bio is building the hardware to scale cultivated meat from lab to table – TechCrunch

Cultivated meat, grown in a bioreactor relatively than out on the vary, is perhaps one of many massive meals traits of the last decade. But it surely’s counting on tech constructed round multiplying yeast and micro organism cells, not animal tissue — and Unicorn Biotechnologies needs to alter that with new gear created with mass meals manufacturing in thoughts. It’s simply raised $3.2 million to show its prototype bioreactor right into a industrial product.

Although we hear about new cultivated meat corporations and funding rounds with frankly superb frequency (this one occurred whereas I used to be penning this!), there are basic questions on whether or not this methodology of rising meat can scale. The easy truth is that animals like cows are grown in large environments which might be principally empty or crammed with hay; each gram of cultivated meat comes by an costly, advanced machine that most likely wasn’t designed to do that stuff within the first place.

“Most biomanufacturing programs had been designed and optimized for making micro organism (making enzymes) or yeast (brewing beer) or are targeted on making the byproducts of animal cells (vaccines), not the animal cells themselves,” stated co-founder and CEO of Unicorn Bio, Jack Reid. “Utilizing this legacy {hardware} to domesticate meat requires one to reengineer the cells. Our strategy and core conviction is that it’s really simpler, and in the end higher, to design new {hardware} programs aimed to foster the expansion across the cells, relatively than making an attempt to suit these cells to current engineering programs.”

After all it’s not like these corporations with massive cash are simply shopping for stuff off the shelf. However the business is transferring quick and critics have identified that even probably the most wildly optimistic figures are paltry in comparison with the standard meat business. In the event that they wish to change the world, they’ll want to exchange greater than 1% of beef.

Unicorn goals to alter that with automation and modularity constructed with scaling in thoughts from the beginning.

“At present, one of many largest challenges for biomanufacturing is bioprocess optimization. It might take years — and even a long time — to scale a bioprocess to large-scale bioreactors (think about metal tanks the dimensions of a small home),” Reid stated. Unicorn’s modular strategy makes use of many smaller programs working in parallel; smaller volumes are simpler to manage, and likewise simpler so as to add or subtract to satisfy demand or exchange others.

Reid additionally claims the next degree of automation for its machines — which, to be clear, are nonetheless at prototype stage. However bioreactors had been solely very not too long ago solely present in biotech and pharmaceutical laboratories and aren’t precisely designed for straightforward operation and customization.

“We’re making a system that’s automated end-to-end. To function it, you don’t want a Ph.D., you merely have to ‘plug in’ your beginning substances, choose the product you’re rising and let the system deal with the remaining,” he stated. Whereas there’s virtually definitely a bit of extra to it than that, the system will use built-in sensing, machine studying and industrial automation tech to this finish. A few of these can already be discovered within the improvements of different cultivated meat startups, but it surely’s a fast-moving sector.

In the end Unicorn doesn’t wish to make meat itself however act as an enabler for others within the business.

Whereas the potential for cultivated meat is huge (to cut back greenhouse fuel emissions, animal struggling and to extend meals safety in our quickly altering local weather), this may solely be realized if breakthrough applied sciences are made out there to all the gamers establishing this area,” stated Reid.

If an organization has found an ideal cell line or progress methodology however isn’t an professional in engineering bioreactors or nutrient movement, they might be capable to arrange Unicorn {hardware} as they scale up relatively than repurposing tech from a unique period.

Reid disagreed with a few of the extra outspoken critics of the potential of cultivated meat, however stated it’s true that with right now’s expertise (which is to say, yesterday’s) we will’t probably hit the volumes essential to make a dent within the moral and environmental points basic to elevating animals for slaughter. Innovation is important to make even the smallest influence.

Picture Credit: Unicorn Biotechnologies

The $3.2 million seed spherical ought to assist transfer Unicorn ahead; it was led by Acequia Capital, with participation from SOSV, Marinya Capital, Alumni Ventures, C3, CULT Meals Science and others. They’ve already spent a few of it to rent up a bit and wish to present a proof of idea scale machine able to producing kilograms of cells by the tip of the yr. Pilot tasks with companions may start round that point, or in early 2023.

“Though a lot work stays forward,” stated Reid, “We retain the conviction that sustained innovation on the intersection of biology, engineering and bioprocess automation will proceed to unlock tangible applied sciences to assist the cultivated meat ecosystem obtain its full potential.”

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