Insiders Reveal Main Issues at Lab-Grown-Meat Startup Upside Meals | Digital Noch

Insiders Reveal Main Issues at Lab-Grown-Meat Startup Upside Meals | Digital Noch

In an interview with AgFunderNews revealed in June, Upside chief working officer Amy Chen confirmed that its whole-cut hen product was nonetheless being made in 2-liter curler bottles. Upside’s web site—which features a web page devoted to explaining the manufacturing of its hen—makes no point out of curler bottles.

“We’re already producing entire cuts, entire tissue merchandise. Fairly than producing cells in a suspension or in a slurry, we’re producing entire tissues straight out of the cultivator,” former senior vp of operations Steve Myrick instructed Meat+Poultry journal in April 2021. When Upside opened its pilot manufacturing unit in Emeryville in November 2021, CEO Uma Valeti additionally touted its means to make all types of meat. “Right here, you may produce any sort of meat, poultry, or seafood possible. Together with each floor and entire cuts of meat,” he stated on the opening ceremony, in a video livestreamed from the ability.

However former and present staff say that these claims exaggerate Upside’s technical capabilities. Internally, staff would joke that the startup might be the following Theranos—the blood testing startup that imploded spectacularly, ending with its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, being convicted of fraud. “It was a operating joke: ‘Are we the following Theranos?’” says one former worker. “I don’t assume it essentially signifies that they’re the following Theranos,” the previous worker provides. “Nobody is dying. Persons are being lied to, however nobody goes to die. Ideally.” One other former worker confirmed that staffers on the firm would make jokes evaluating Upside to Theranos.

Now, Upside appears to be placing its whole-cut fillets on the again burner. On September 14, Upside introduced plans to construct a 187,000-square-foot facility in Glenview, Illinois, that may initially be dedicated to creating nugget-like ground-chicken merchandise—a course of for which Upside has but to obtain a inexperienced gentle from regulators. Asserting the brand new facility, Upside stated that, as soon as full, it could not produce the “whole-textured” hen it’s been serving, although the corporate goals to take action “sooner or later.”

The general public tasting at Bar Crenn was alleged to sign that the period of lab-grown meat had lastly arrived. As an alternative, sources declare, Upside has struggled with technical setbacks, whereas projecting a picture of getting solved the important thing scientific problem of scaling up the manufacturing of entire cuts of meat. The revelations elevate questions on precisely how a lot cultured meat corporations, after practically $3 billion in funding over the previous seven years, have achieved—and whether or not sure sorts of cultivated meat merchandise can ever be commercially viable.

Meaty Claims

For a nascent trade, the cultured-meat startup scene is crowded. Each firm has its personal spin on the expertise—a method to set itself aside from opponents. Some are opting to copy high-end merchandise like sushi-grade salmon. Others are going extra unique, with unusual riffs on mammoth meat. California-based SciFi Meals is leaning into the weirdness of all of it, experimenting with beef burgers which have as little as 5 % animal cells blended with plant-based elements.

Upside’s means to provide entire cuts of meat is some extent of distinction from its opponents—an obvious technological head begin that has given Upside an edge in the case of elevating funds. The startup has raised greater than $600 million in funding since 2016—attracting greater than a fifth of all of the capital raised by cultured meat corporations as much as the tip of 2022, in line with knowledge from PitchBook and the Good Meals Institute. Its record of buyers contains SoftBank, Cargill, Richard Branson, and the Abu Dhabi Progress Fund.

Upside’s whole-cut hen.

{Photograph}: Christie Hemm Klok

{Photograph}: Christie Hemm Klok

There are, roughly talking, two methods of turning animal cells right into a cultivated meat product. The simplest and least expensive is to develop cells in suspension, which implies mixing free-floating cells in a bioreactor with liquid feed and ready till these cells have divided and matured. These suspension cells can then be harvested as a meat slurry and processed into ground-meat merchandise like sizzling canines and hen nuggets. Including plant-based elements and processing the ensuing combination may also help mimic the feel of whole-cut meats, however to essentially nail that mouthfeel, corporations will in all probability must transcend suspension cells, says David Kaplan, head of the mobile agriculture lab at Tufts College in Boston.

The opposite possibility is to discover a method to make cells knit collectively and type sheets of tissue as they develop. Stacking and urgent these sheets collectively can lead to a texture that’s nearer to a hen breast than a hen nugget.

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