Tobacco could play a role in alternative meat’s future

BioBetter has developed a way to utilize the plant for the development of better-cultivated meat.

  BioBetter's technology uses tobacco in the cultivation of meat cells (photo credit: ALEXANDER SELEZNYOV)
BioBetter's technology uses tobacco in the cultivation of meat cells
(photo credit: ALEXANDER SELEZNYOV)

As smoking becomes increasingly stigmatized around the world, tobacco has gained a bad reputation in the health community due to its high concentrations of the addictive agent nicotine. However, Israeli food-tech engineers at start-up BioBetter have found a use case for the plant that could put its properties to good use - as a building block for better-cultured meat.

The Kiryat Shmona-based company has unveiled its development of a tobacco-based platform that will enable the low-cost mass production of so-called “growth factors” for the cultured meat industry. These growth factors are fundamental building blocks that create a suitable molecular environment for the growth and maturation of cultured meat cells.

The company will use the platform to enable efficient large-scale production of cultured meat, making it a low-priced mass-consumption product for the general public. The company estimates that the new technology will enable the annual production of thousands of tons of growth factors for the cultured meat industry at a cost of $1 per gram. “It’s estimated that growth factors and cell-culture media can constitute 55% to 85% of the marginal cost in manufacturing cell-based foods,” said Dr. Dana Yarden, MD, co-founder of BioBetter. 

CEO and co-founder Dr. Amit Yaari elaborated on the science behind the technology: “These are cells that are quite sophisticated - cells for multicellular organisms such as chickens and cows need a very complex environment,” he said. “They don't just proliferate as fast as possible - like bacteria, for example - they have to get a signal for when to differentiate and when to proliferate. To give these cues, we use small proteins called growth factors which signal the molecules within the tissue.”

The startup is applying proprietary technology to express and purify proteins from tobacco plants, in a process that utilizes the entire plant's green biomass for the production of a high-quality purified product.

 BioBetter co-founders. From left to right – Prof. Oded Shoseyov, Dr. Amit Yaari, Dr. Dana Yarden, Avi Tzur (credit: ALEXANDER SELEZNYOV) BioBetter co-founders. From left to right – Prof. Oded Shoseyov, Dr. Amit Yaari, Dr. Dana Yarden, Avi Tzur (credit: ALEXANDER SELEZNYOV)

 "The tobacco plant has clear advantages for the production process of growth factors from a non-animal source. It grows quickly, accumulates a large biomass, and can yield four harvests a year; it is also suited for the production of a large number of complex proteins," said Yaari. "The global trend to reduce the smoking of tobacco is causing tobacco farmers, especially in the US, 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."