Israeli food-tech startup BioBetter has launched a tobacco plant-based platform, which will enable low-cost mass production of growth factors (GFs) for the cultured meat industry. The company will use the platform to produce growth factors for food-tech companies to enable efficient large-scale production of cultured meat. With their participation and collaboration with the Israel Innovation Authority and the Good Food Institute Cultured Meat development research programs, BioBetter is on track to helping make cultured meat a reality for all.

In recent years, problems about climate change have been taking center stage. Now, the general public is fairly well reversed with all the factors that can contribute to global warming, such as greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and our diets. As this subject has become popular, more and more people are starting to understand that meat, especially beef, is very bad for the environment, for on average 50 kg of greenhouse gasses are released per 100 grams of protein. That is a huge trade-off. Folks around the world are trying to minimize their meat consumption to do their part to curb their carbon footprint, but startups are also coming up with innovative ways to mimic meat production so that people don't have to give up on their favourite meals. BioBetter is one of them.

Since cultivated meat requires a culture medium that comprises a mix of amino acids, nutrients, and growth factors (without which cells cannot differentiate or proliferate) it is a very expensive industry because of this very expensive process. GF costs are very high, so much so that a 100-fold reduction in insulin and transferring production costs is necessary to make the cultured meat industry financially viable, according to the Good Food Initiative, a non-profit organization promoting the use of meat alternatives.

A better pivot for tobacco farmers

BioBetter is applying proprietary technology to express and purify proteins from tobacco plants, in a process that utilizes the entire plant's green biomass to produce a high-quality purified product. They do so by harnessing the natural advantages of the tobacco plant as a bioreactor for protein expression. Essentially, the technology is based on advanced molecular expression systems and combines large-scale, open field cultivation of tobacco plants with a purification technology to enable mass production of GFs at a very low cost. This, in turn, will dramatically reduce the production costs of cultured meat, all while being more environmentally friendly as plant bioreactors exploit renewable energy (sunlight) and fixate CO2.

As Dr. Amit Yaari, the CEO of BioBetter, explained to Geektime, "The tobacco plant has clear advantages for the production process of growth factors from a non-animal source. It grows quickly, accumulates large biomass, and can yield four harvests a year. It is also suited to produce many complex proteins. The global trend to reduce the smoking of tobacco is causing tobacco farmers, especially in the U.S., to seek new uses for the plant. The tobacco plant has vast potential to become a key element in the future of food – a future that we at BioBetter will make possible." So BioBetter is not only helping the environment, but it is also helping farmers and consumers. The company estimates that the new technology will enable the annual production of thousands of tons of growth factors for the cultured meat industry for $1 per gram.

Dr. Amit Yaari. Credit: Alexander Seleznyov

BioBetter was founded in 2015 by Prof. Oded Shoseyov (of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) Dr. Dana Yarden (MD, MBA) and Avi Tzur. The company currently employs 23 researchers and has raised $5 million to date from private investors and Alpha Capital Anstalt.