An Overview of the Challenges and Innovations of the Current Cellular Aquaculture Industry

Could this be what seafood looks like in the future? Creating seafood from cells rather than whole animals, cellular aquaculture could offer a new model of sustainable and scalable seafood production.

All things considered

Aquaculture is not without its challenges from of seafood products, and in the supply chain, to the of the industry that contributes to climate change and threatens wild habitats. Additionally, conventional seafood production has been fraught with concerns about and pollutants such as ,, and more recently,. Along with considerations for, there is a strong interest in establishing a steady and consistent supply of seafood that can deliver a traceable, defined product without such concerns.

A rising tide

Recently, Bluu Biosciences made news as the to pursue cellular seafood in Europe. The Berlin-based company (~$8.24M USD) in a round of funding to develop cell-cultivated seafood, focusing on salmon, trout, and carp. The company’s product choices reflect the scientific expertise of one of the co-founders, Dr. Sebastian Rakers. A marine and cell biologist, Rakers in establishing and studying fish cell lines to Bluu Biosciences.

Some of his published studies give insight into the technology behind Bluu Biosciences. Rakers’ work establishing various fish cell cultures is some of the only publicly available research relevant to cell-based seafood. While much of the research in this field is generated by private companies and are therefore proprietary, there are towards to support the scientific community and the industry in this emerging field.

His work includes establishing a long-term cell culture and development of cell cultures of skin and scale from rainbow trout. Sebastian Rakers also the potential of using fish skin stem cells to produce collagen, which could replace bovine collagen in medical and cosmetic applications.

In Asia, where, cell-based seafood is gaining traction with companies such as Avant Meats and Shiok Meats.

Based in Hong Kong, Avant Meats recently and is working on, tailoring to consumers in China and Southeast Asia. The company, which last December,, a contract research and manufacturing company specializing in industrial cell culture. Avant projects that this partnership will amount to a 90% cost reduction using FBS-free media and accelerate scaling up by at least 12 months.

Avant has also applied its cell culture technology to for beauty products. The protein ingredient, derived from Avant’s cultivated fish cells, could be applied in skin care products, beauty supplements, and functional drinks. Avant that internal testing of its product demonstrated anti-oxidative properties and ability to promote the production of structural components — elastin and collagen — in skin cells.

A Singapore-based startup, Shiok Meats has developed prototypes of cell-cultivated crustacean meat, its cell-based shrimp in 2019 and lobster last November, with plans to release a cell-based crab prototype as well. Shiok Meats is also patenting its shrimp and lobster flavorings created from the same production process.

Shiok Meats raised a seed round of $4.6 million in 2019, in a bridge funding round, and most recently,. The funds will go towards building a commercial pilot plant with the goal to launch minced shrimp meat in 2022.

Dr. Sandhya Sriram, CEO and co-founder, has been working with various types of stem cells through her research career. Driven to take action on in the seafood industry, Sriram and her co-founder, Dr. Ka Yi Ling,. Ling is also a developmental and stem cell biologist with over a decade of experience.

Dr. Ka Yi Ling, left, and Dr. Sandhya Sriram, right, are co-founders of Shiok Meats.

Singapore, where Shiok Meats is based, a “30 by 30” food security goal that would have 30% of the nation’s nutritional needs produced locally by 2030. The Singapore Food Agency supports the research and development of climate-resilient, sustainable food technologies and as one of its focus areas.

Among the growing number of cultivated meat companies in the US, BlueNalu, Wild Type, Finless Foods, and Cultured Decadence focus on seafood.

BlueNalu has developed stable cell lines for including red snapper, yellowtail amberjack, bluefin tuna, and mahi-mahi. Lou Cooperhouse, president and CEO of BlueNalu, said that these species are typically imported and were chosen specifically not to compete with the local fish industry.

The San Diego aquaculture company has raised, with investors such as, a traditional seafood company and parent company of Chicken of the Sea, South Korean food company , and trading and investment company.

With the biggest investments in cellular aquaculture to date, BlueNalu is of its five-phase strategy towards commercial scale production. The company is currently building a pilot production facility in San Diego, with plans to expand into large-scale production in. The pilot facility is projected to be capable of producing up to 500 pounds of cell-based seafood per week, using a cold extrusion process. BlueNalu has also, a fish feed and animal nutrition supplier, which will provide its knowledge in fish nutrition and source ingredients for cell culture media.

Large-scale commercial production of cultivated seafood can bring down its costs and enable wider consumer adoption. Pictured: Floor plan of BlueNalu’s production facility in San Diego

To help guide this, the brings together current and former executives in the food industry, as well as various experts in supply chain management, marine biology, nutrition research, regulatory affairs, and culinary arts.

Wild Type, a San Francisco based startup, has towards developing cell-based salmon. Wild Type cultivates cells from Coho salmon, a species native to the Pacific coast from Alaska to California. The company considers conservation of wild fish stocks as one of its core goals; Wild Type’s cultivated salmon is derived from wild Coho salmon, which is federally recognized as.

As a new approach to ocean conservation efforts, cell-based seafood the environmental pressures that threaten wild species and their habitats. The path for this to happen, however, that involves not just overcoming the technical challenges of delivering a product, but also consumer demand and supply chain dynamics down to the level of fishers. Ultimately, the demand for cell-based seafood would have to reach a level that displaces conventional seafood and reduce fishing below current levels, in order to make an impact for ocean conservation.

For its product release, Wild Type is targeting restaurants, where a is consumed. The company is building across major cities in the US who would bring cell-based, sushi-grade salmon to the plate.

Grown in a controlled lab environment, cell-based seafood can be safely eaten by anyone without concerns for heavy metals, pesticides, and microplastics. Pictured: Sushi roll made with Wild Type’s cell-based salmon

Another Bay area start-up, Finless Foods, has been working on developing cell-based bluefin tuna. Founded in 2017, Finless Foods was to feature cell-based fish, presenting fish cakes made from cultivated fish cells at a tasting event. The company has been optimizing scale-up, that it is more efficient to use single systems in which cells grow and differentiate in the same bioreactor as opposed to using different bioreactors for different stages of production. Finless Foods has also been experimenting with different methods of culturing cells, such as suspension culture, in which cells are floating freely in growth media, and attachment culture, where cells attach to a scaffolding that adds structure to the final product.

Finless Foods joined BlueNalu and three other cell-based meat companies representing the cellular agriculture industry. The Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation (AMPS Innovation) will be informing the public on the science and technology behind cellular agriculture, and to raise awareness of cell-based products as they near commercialization. While cell-based products are not on the market yet, it is important for the industry and advocacy groups to set the stage before products become available for the public.

AMPS Innovation is also actively engaging with policymakers and to ensure a defined, evidence-based regulatory pathway is established for cell-cultured products. Earlier last month, the coalition submitted a document to the FDA urging adoption of the term “cell-cultured” in labeling its products. While showed the term “cell-based seafood” outperformed “cell-cultured seafood” on recognition among consumers and distinction from conventionally produced seafood, AMPS Innovation supported the latter on account of uniform labeling.

The latest addition to the cellular aquaculture space is Cultured Decadence, a start-up based in Madison, WI. Co-founders John Pattinson and Ian Johnson each have worked in the cellular agriculture space, and in the midst of the pandemic last April. They chose to start with cell-based lobster, leveraging the technical experience of Ian, who worked at Finless Foods for two years. Based at Forward Bio Institute, a life sciences incubator at the University of Wisconsin, Cultured Decadence is currently in the process of cell line development and media optimization.

While commercial efforts are currently focused on fish and crustacean products, can extend to. Vanessa Haley-Benjamin, a New Harvest research fellow, is conducting fundamental research on mollusks such as shellfish, oysters, and abalone. She is specifically working with conch, a culturally significant species of the Bahamas under threat of extinction.

Cellular aquaculture has much potential as a new way to of wild capture and aquaculture in supplying the global demand for seafood. Cell-based seafood would also help conserve and restore our oceans and aquatic habitats, as the industry becomes increasingly efficient and innovative.

Written by Nahee Kim, Correspondent for Helikon Consulting

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Helikon Consulting

Scientific consulting in alternative proteins — plant-based proteins, cellular agriculture, and cell-based meat