Creating fish from scratch as a sustainable protein source

About 20% of the protein consumed in the world today comes from seafood, a nutritionally dense food source that quickly satisfies hunger. And the appetite for seafood, especially fish, is likely to only grow.

But the growing demand for fish is straining fish populations and the seafood industry, which is already struggling to keep up with demand.

“More than three billion people depend on the ocean and its surroundings for their lives,” says Daphna Heffetz, CEO of Israeli food tech startup Wanda Fish. “Marine biodiversity is essential to the survival of people and our planet. But overfishing, along with water pollution, is damaging the vast and vital ocean ecosystem. Many wild fish populations are unfortunately in decline.

To correct this imbalance, Heffetz and Wanda Fish, which launched last year, have joined the growing “alternative protein” scene, also known as cell farming. Here, cultured meat, that is, meat grown directly from animal cells, with a taste and texture similar to that of meat from animals raised on farms or caught at sea, provides a source protein alternative to help advance food sustainability, nutrition and health. Security.

For help in developing and perfecting this technology, Wanda Fish turned to a leading expert in the burgeoning field of cellular agriculture: David Kaplan of Tufts University.

Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is a renowned researcher in cell agriculture. For years, he and his group have been leading this field by devising new ways to approach the characteristics of “real” meat through tissue engineering.

Recently, he received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to establish the first national center in the United States dedicated to cellular agriculture research.

Last year, Kaplan’s work on developing fish cell culture caught the attention of Wanda Fish, who saw it as a way to meet the growing demand for seafood, especially fish. . The company has now licensed the technology and, for the next two years, is sponsoring Kaplan’s research into fish tissue production based on cell agriculture.

Kaplan describes how it works: “We start with a single, unique sample of real, native fish muscle and adipose tissue,” he says. “We then continue to replicate the biological growth of the fish, with nutritional attributes including protein and omega 3 content, as well as taste and textural properties. What we avoid are microplastics, mercury, or other chemical toxicities that are commonly found in some wild catches.

Heffetz says his company has already made progress in developing its first fish fillet prototype directly from fish cells.

“Our platform includes animal-free culture medium, expertise in native muscle and fat tissue production, and specially customized bioreactors that will give us the ability to scale production and eventually bring our products to farmed fish at cost parity with their conventionally fished counterparts,” she says.

The progress she describes brings the company closer to its goal of providing a way to produce durable, flavorful fillets for a variety of species, so it can satisfy a range of consumer preferences, all without placing a burden on the consumer. ocean and the extraordinary universe. of life within it.

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