Biomaterials company Ecovative, the startup that helped Swedish furniture giant IKEA make the switch to sustainable packaging made from mushrooms, is looking to support emerging lab-grown meat business with its new biofabrication platform.
Ecovative, says Business Insider, uses mycelium to create new and eco-friendly materials that can replace plastics and styrofoam; however, the company also believes it can use this technology to support the creation of clean meat. Mycelium is the underground vegetative part of a fungus that seeks water and nutrients to help mushrooms grow. This differs from the current trend of cellular agriculture, in which several companies are using animal cells to produce slaughter-free chicken, burgers, sausages, and even fish to market. However, this burgeoning technology still has a ways to go with regard to flavor, texture, and cost.
Ecovative hopes to provide both existing and emerging brands with mushroom-based “scaffolding,” or a platform that would allow the cells used to make lab-grown meat to take on the complex structure of the real thing. Through its recently-launched MycoFlex platform, Ecovative has already managed to grow leather-like material. The company is currently experimenting with using its unique “mushroom” cell scaffolding platform to grow cell-based meat, which has been hailed by many as a technological breakthrough that could help combat climate change and end world hunger.
“The key thing mycelium does is go from a single-celled organism to a 3D structure in space,” explained Ecovative co-founder and CEO, Eben Bayer. “We’ve been growing animal cells on it and they have been growing really well.”
Why choose mushrooms? According to Bayer, the fungus is far more versatile than other members of the plant kingdom. “If you look at plant scaffolding, you’re limited to the geometry of something like a spinach leaf. With mycelium, we can make a sheet that’s many feet long and however thick. We can control the density. It’s this massive scaffold you can grow relatively inexpensively,” he said.
Ecovative isn’t the first startup to realize the potential of mushrooms in cellular agriculture. Peter Thiel-backed pet food startup Wild Earth creates vegan dog food made from koji, the fungus used to make soybeans and sake. Vegan seafood company Terramino Foods also uses koji to recreate the texture of salmon in its fishless burgers. Both share Ecovative’s mission of creating a more sustainable future for the planet.
While Ecovative recognizes the potential for MycoFlex to help grow lab-grown meat, Bayer admits the company’s future in clean meat is not certain. Creating plant-based meat is also up in the air. Whichever direction Ecovative takes, the startup hopes to make its scaffolding platform available to everyone.
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