This cell-cultured fish startup from San Diego is a semi-finalist in the XPrize competition

San Diego startup BlueNalu, which grows fish fillets in a lab directly from real fish cells, has made the first cut in the $15 million XPRIZE Feed the Next Trillion competition, which aims to boost production of alternative proteins to help support future generations.

BlueNalu is one of 28 semi-finalists chosen from approximately 270 contestants. The goal is to accelerate the development of plant-based or cell culture-based chicken breasts and fish fillets that match or surpass real meats in nutrition, taste, texture, environmental sustainability, health -being and animal health.

“As our global population continues to grow and the demand for meat products increases, it has become clear that our current global food chain cannot keep up,” said Caroline Kolta, XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion Program Manager. “We know that we need more nutritious, environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to conventional animal products, and that large-scale adoption will require additional innovation.”

BlueNalu makes cell-based fillets by isolating real fish muscle, fat and tissue cells, bathing them in nutrients and culturing them in stainless steel equipment similar to what is used in microbreweries.

Last year, it raised $60 million in convertible debt financing to build its production facility in Sorrento Mesa. The 44-employee company plans to move into part of the building later this year, chairman and chief executive Lou Cooperhouse said.

BlueNalu has focused on cell lines of certain species, such as mahi-mahi and bluefin tuna, which are difficult to rear on fish farms or increasingly overfished.

“I call seafood the most vulnerable supply chain on the planet,” Cooperhouse said. “XPRIZE is creating tremendous awareness and publicity that this technology is not that far off. I think competition can really help get things to market faster and identify who’s in that race.

Los Angeles-based XPRIZE has for years held large-scale competitions to foster technological breakthroughs. Some of its best-known competitions include the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE and the $20 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, both of which have spurred private industry to pursue space travel. They laid the groundwork for Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson’s journey into space last weekend.

While plant-based meat products have become more common recently, cell-cultured meats are still in their infancy. BlueNalu’s fish fillets will need clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration before being marketed.

Semi-finalists in the Feed the Next Billion contest come from a dozen countries. American companies making the cut include Air Protein, Atlast Food Co., Boston Meats, GOOD Meat, Kuleana, Meati Foods, Novel Farms, The Better Meat Co. and Wildtype.

According to XPRIZE, the world’s population is expected to grow from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 9.7 billion by 2050. Providing sustainable protein to all of these people may require plant-based, cell culture, or blended meat alternatives.

The 28 semi-finalists will share $500,000. Over the next year, they will work to further develop their products. By the end of next year, the field will be narrowed down to 10 finalists who will split $2.5 million in milestone money.

The competition will then proceed to judging with a grand prize of $7 million and smaller amounts of cash prizes for second and third place. Contest sponsors include ASPIRE and the Tony Robbins Foundation. Winning teams will have to create at least 25 cuts of structured chicken breast or fish fillet that mimics real meat.

“What’s also really exciting is that XPRIZE is saying, yes, you have to be able to make it, but it will be judged on how it compares to conventional products,” Cooperhouse said. “It’s another way of saying culinary. At BlueNalu, we are a kitchen-centric company. »

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