Canada’s Future Fields was founded in 2018. This week the firm has unveiled its patent-pending process for using the common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to produce the cellular growth medium used in the production of cultured (cellular) meats. The company claims that at mass-market scale its EntoEngine platform will make the normally expensive growing medium as much as ten thousand times cheaper than competing products, thereby reducing the overall cost of cultured meat to consumers.
The race to reduce the cost of cellular meat’s growing medium
Growth factor proteins signal to cells when and how to grow but past generations of cellular meat used fetal bovine serum (FBS) harvested from slaughterhouses or growth factors produced by microbes. Both approaches are expensive and difficult to scale for mass-market products and keep cellular meat hovering around $50 per pound compared to the average of less than $6 per pound for steak in the U.S.
“Efficiency in single-cell systems is inherently limited because of costly cultures, growth media to support the growth of these cells, and antibiotics to prevent contamination,” explains Dr. Matt Anderson-Baron, Future Field’s Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder. “We’ve circumvented all of these issues completely by using insects that are self-contained bioreactors capable of expressing nearly any protein or growth factor.”
Future Field’s Drosophila bioreactor approach clears the way for cellular meat and other agricultural products (such as leather) thanks to the significant advantages it has over other production methods.
Growth factors can be tailored to specific animal meat species such as pigs, poultry and cows. The insects involved eat a low cost basic organic diet and get all of their hydration from their food. There is no need for any additional water source like there would be with an E.coli bioreactor, or the costly disposal of thousands of treated litres later on. Ordinarily a 20,000L bioreactor can cost over $250,000 whereas the cost of rearing fruit flies is low.
“Drosophila help us fulfill cellular agriculture’s mandate to reduce environmental impacts while producing high-quality protein for a growing global population,” says Jalene Anderson-Baron, Future Field’s COO, who first proposed the use of fruit flies. “We can farm them on a sustainable diet, they are very efficient at converting food into body mass, they get the water they need from their food, and can be farmed close to production facilities reducing the need for transportation.”
This week’s news comes on the heels of Future Fields’ successful US$2.2M seed funding round and the shipping of the company’s first product – a proprietary version of the FGF2 growth factor protein – to cellular meat producers.