Jellatech Is Growing Animal-Free Collagen in a Bioreactor
Raleigh, North Carolina-based biotechnology startup Jellatech has managed to grow animal-free collagen and gelatin. | Jellatech / Camilo F. Muñoz Segovia

Animal-Free Gelatin Is Possible. You Just Need a Bioreactor.

Animal-free gelatin and animal-free collagen, developed by biotechnology startup Jellatech, could be used across food and cosmetics.

A new startup aims to make animal-free gelatin and collagen.

Named Jellatech, the story behind the company is unique to the times: Its co-founders, CEO Stephanie Michelson and head of science Kylie van Deinsen-Hesp, have yet to meet in person due to COVID-19.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in animals; it can be extracted from their skin, bones, and connective tissues. It has a wide range of applications, from beauty supplements and cosmetic surgery to medical purposes, such as reconstructive surgery.

Jellatech makes cell-based (AKA lab-grown, cultivated, or cultured) collagen and gelatin. This means the protein is grown from real human and animal cells.

This technique has also been used to grow meat by a number of startups in recent years, including Israeli company Aleph Farms, which recently unveiled a 3D bioprinted ribeye steak.

The Raleigh-based startup’s founders say that there are fewer challenges with producing cell-based collagen and gelatin than there are with growing meat. And, they aim to use cellular agriculture to eliminate the use of animals for these ingredients.

For starters, Deinsen-Hesp explained to FoodNavigator-USA, lab-grown meat producers need a lot of cells and a lot of expensive growth media, which is used to feed and grow meat, such as using cow’s cells to grow a ribeye steak. Cell-based producers use those cells to make meat–fat, muscle, connective tissue, and all–which poses challenges.

The Potential of Lab-Grown Collagen

But at scale, Jellatech would be able to produce animal-free collagen on a continuous basis.

“We envision a continuous purification and purification process, so you just grow the cells to a certain density, and then harvest collagen continually from the cells,” said Deinsen-Hesp.

While she acknowledges that producing collagen this way is far pricier than microbial fermentation, using animal cells has advantages. Collagen is “not easy to engineer into a microbe,” she said.

“Why reinvent something when you can take something that already makes exactly what you want?” Deinsen-Hesp asked. “With a cell-based approach, we can really substitute animal-based collagen and create a truly functional animal-free collagen.”

In addition to collagen, Jellatech is taking on animal-free gelatin. The flavorless, colorless ingredient is derived from collagen and is used as a thickening and gelling agent in food and cosmetic products. Eventually, Jellatech will be able to produce a variety of collagen-derived ingredients. 

Jellatech will function as a b2b company, where one business makes materials or ingredients for another business’s production process. It is already in talks with a handful of interested parties and has secured seed funding from venture capital fund Sustainable Food Ventures and Big Idea Ventures. It is currently raising additional funds.

Cell-based collagen and gelatin may not be available for some time. Jellatech is currently working on a number of things. These include consulting food law experts about regulatory approval from the FDA to bioreactor design.

LIVEKINDLY has reached out to Jellatech for additional information.