Israeli start-up aims to print real meat from cellular ink

From juicy plant-based burgers to lab-grown minute steaks, the sizzling competition over sustainable meat technologies is reaching boiling point.

Meat without borders (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meat without borders
(photo credit: Courtesy)
From juicy plant-based burgers to lab-grown minute steaks, the sizzling competition over sustainable meat technologies is reaching boiling point.
Driven by a combination of environmental, health and ethical concerns, the soaring substitute market and cultured meat innovation may be a blessing for vegans and vegetarians, but their primary target is the meat-eating masses.
Products made by Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers have caught the attention of consumers and investors alike in recent months. Yet it is the emergence and subsequent commercialization of cultured or “clean” meat that is truly expected to transform the conventional market.
Given Israel’s leadership in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, it may be unsurprising that Israel’s entrepreneurs are playing a leading role in the transformation. Companies including Aleph Farms, Future Meat Technologies and Supermeat are all cooking up sustainable solutions.
Taking an alternative lab-based approach is Ness Ziona-based MeaTech, which is coupling expertise in the field of tissue engineering and 3D printing technology. While still some years from hitting supermarket shelves, the ambitious start-up is developing a system to print real meat and will produce its first samples later this year.
“There is a crisis in the world considering the amount of food that we’re able to produce for the growing population,” said MeaTech CEO Sharon Fima, an experienced entrepreneur from the world of 3D printing technologies. “We saw that it is possible – using advanced technologies – to produce meat without killing or pollution, but with the same proteins to provide the body with what it needs.”
The industry-oriented company starts by taking cell samples from an umbilical cord, without harming the animal. Cells are then reproduced in a bioreactor before being separated into inks with different cell types, including fat and muscle. Once turned into “cellular ink,” cells are 3D bioprinted to create the foundations and structures of a real cut of meat, before being placed in incubators to mature and grow. The “print” of meat is then frozen and packaged for shipping.
“I’ll say it cautiously, but we have an advantage over the others in the field, who mostly produce minced meat. They might have an advantage in the early stage of growing cells, but we have an advantage in bringing cultured meat to the industry,” said Fima, emphasizing the significant industry experience possessed by his team.
“It’s easier to make minced meat and we understand that – but we’re not going there. We believe the real solution will come from growing large, industrial-size chunks of meat,” Fima said.
Established by Fima and cofounders Amir Hasidim and Omri Schanin, MeaTech has built two parallel but synchronized teams – one focusing on the biological aspect of cellular ink and the second working on mechanical design.
The company’s advisory board includes leading chemist Prof. Shlomo Magdassi and Prof. Tal Dvir, who recently headed a Tel Aviv University research team to successfully print the world’s first 3-D vascularized, engineered heart.
While cultured meat is currently far more expensive than regular meat, Fima says the prices will plummet once commercialized and produced on an industrial scale. Many cattle-growing operations are likely to disappear as meat suppliers adapt to an entirely new production line.
“The meat is also a lot better. You know exactly how much iron and fat is in the meat. It is digital, cleaner and healthier,” said Fima. “We needed to start somewhere, so we started with beef, but we are developing a technology. This technology will know how to print chicken, fish and other products at very high resolution.”