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Israeli start-up BioBetter develops technology to create cell growth factors from tobacco plants for use in cultured meat production

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
tobacco leaves in field

Based in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, company BioBetter has developed a technology to create cell growth factors (GFs), using tobacco plants. These GFs can be utilised in the production of cultured meat, as well as in pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications.

Growth factors are needed for cells to multiply during the production process of cell-based meats.

BioBetter has discovered that tobacco can be used effectively to develop plant bioreactors which help cell-based protein grow. Tobacco plants also have the ability to take in CO2 and use renewable energy.

Tobacco can be harvested all year round, and can have up to four growth cycles, which would allow for a higher production of GFs.

As innovation in the cultivated meats sector grows, BioBetter claims that its plant-based tobacco growth factors can be much more cost-efficient for lab-grown start-ups, as well as being cruelty-free, as no foetal bovine serum (FBS) would be required to grow meat cells.

To create the plant-based alternative to insulin and transferrin from animals, or the equally costly fermentation of yeast or bacteria, both used in GFs, the company identifies and optimises the target protein, clones its gene into BioBetter expression vectors and then transfers it into the tobacco plant. The plant then produces the protein.

Amit Yaari, PhD, CEO of BioBetter commented on the benefits of using tobacco plants in food production: “It is an abundant crop that has no place in the food-and-feed chain due to its extremely bitter taste and content of undesirable alkaloids. The global trend for reducing tobacco smoking also is raising concerns among tobacco growers that the crop might eventually become obsolete. Yet the tobacco plant has huge potential to become a key component in the future of food.”

Dana Yarden, Managing Director and co-founder of BioBetter said: “The Good Food Institute determined that approximately a 100-fold reduction in insulin and transferrin costs is required to make cultivated meat economically viable.

It is estimated that growth factors and cell-culture media can constitute 55 to 95% of the marginal cost in manufacturing cell-based foods.”

BioBetter currently sources its tobacco plants from local growers, but intend to source from farmers across the globe in the future.

The start-up was founded in 2015 by Prof. Oded Shoseyov, entrepreneur and scientific researcher at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Dana Yarden MBA, an expert in biotech business, and Avi Tzur, who has three decades worth of managerial experience in high-tech groups in the US and Israel. Tzur was also the first to invest in BioBetter’s technology.

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