Cellular Agriculture
Sustainable, clean, cell-cultured salmon
It's not so easy being a fish
Fish today have a lot of health problems like high mercury levels, ingesting microplastics, parasites, and disease (often leading to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Even farm-raising fish comes with its share of issues. Unless you're growing fish on land-based tanks, it's tough to control or track what fish eat. While significant efforts are in place to try to protect and clean up our oceans and streams, there's no quick or individual solution to poor fish health. So how do you ensure that the fish you're buying are healthy and clean?
Enter Wildtype... and what may be the future of fish. They grow salmon, cellularly, from Pacific Northwest salmon.
Do you need animals to create meat?
The two co-founders of Wildtype, Aryé Elfenbein and Justin Kolbeck, share a passion for helping improve food security while relying less on animals. The two met at Yale in 2011 during the first year of Arye's residency and Justin's MBA program.

Aryé is a cardiologist and molecular biologist. During his residency, he started thinking about whether the principles of regenerative medicine and stem cells could be applied to growing animal cell tissue for human consumption. To learn more, he attended the first-ever conference on cultured meat and reconnected with Mark Post, the man credited with creating the original cellularly-grown beef patty, and who worked in the same cardiovascular research institute as Aryé when he was a grad student. Energized from the flow of ideas and people at that conference, he knew that cell-based protein could help alleviate some of the problems with our current global food system.

Justin saw first-hand how food systems could collapse when working as a diplomat in the province of Paktika, Afghanistan. While the region used to have a functioning watershed, farmland, and abundant forest, most of this has been destroyed by invasions, war, and a general disintegration of local government. Additionally, a growing number of the local population were beyond relying on 'last resort' measures, like selling agricultural land or equipment and taking kids out of school to work, resulting in a dire situation where the people were severely food insecure.

The two found they had a lot in common and were interested in pursuing a common goal. After much brainstorming, they developed a vision for a company that could help solve challenges like food security, climate change, and health without sacrificing a bunch of animals in the process. Wildtype's mission is to create the cleanest, most sustainable fish and meat on the planet.
Wildtype's roots
In 2016, they started by growing cell-based foie gras. While it's still not a perfect science, back then, stem cell technology was brand new. After nine months and much tinkering, they got a product that was close enough to what they were expecting.

In 2017, they pivoted to cultured fish and chose salmon for several reasons. It is a versatile, healthy fish full of omega-3's and low in saturated fat. Salmon can be prepared in many different ways (raw for sashimi, minced in a spicy salmon roll, smoked, filleted, poached, etc.) And it's a key component in cuisines worldwide.
From an environmental perspective, the current salmon industry (both farm-raised and wild-caught) is fraught with issues. It's common to see salmon contaminated with heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, and pathogens. And consumers are reacting to the lack of traceability and gross inaccuracy in fish labeling.

They chose to grow a species of Pacific Salmon because it's a food naturally found in the Northern California/Pacific Northwest region where they're based. Nutritionally, their goal is to make their product equivalent to the healthiest salmon found in the wild--chock full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. And making food that is good for people gets them super excited.
Bringing cell-based salmon to market
Going from proof of concept to a scalable business model is a challenge for any company, especially one that is making food in a new, unusual way. Just recruiting people with such a specific set of skills and passion for working in this blossoming industry is challenging because the technology is new. At this point, they can feed a dinner party, but their goal is to feed tens of thousands of dinner parties.
To do this, they are transitioning from a research organization to a food production organization. And then there's complying with the government regulations--that haven't been put into code yet. They've participated in public forums hosted by the FDA and USDA on the topic of regulating cell-cultured foods. So far, the two governing parties agreed on how to approach and collaborate on their regulation. The founders noted about the regulating parties, "It's refreshing that they are both so forward-leaning on this and don't want to slow the path to market down."
"People thought we were crazy"
Will people actually eat it?
While they haven't declared a date (yet) when their salmon will be available at your local store, one big concern on everyone's mind is, "will consumers try it?" When they first started, people thought they were crazy. Now, the phrases "cell-based meat," and "cultured meat" are a teeny bit more mainstream but still not in the everyday vocabulary of most people. However, the rapid growth and popularity of alternative proteins in 2019 is a good indicator that consumers are open to change. They are more conscious of their food choices, especially when it comes to animal products.

Wildtype plans to enter the market with a three-prong approach: packaging, price, and collaboration. Their packaging will display brand qualities such as clean, healthy fish, full of nutrients, omegas 3's, and none of the bad stuff like mercury or microplastics. They're hoping their price will eventually be lower than what's already in the market, making it a natural choice. And, they're building first-hand relationships with chefs whom they describe as "the gatekeepers for the food industry."
"This is the very first chapter in a renaissance of food."
While the cell-based food industry has a long way to go before making it a common household food, Wildtype's founders are optimistic and forward-thinking. They noted (and we did too in our 2020 trends report) that, "everybody is shifting now and wants more personalized nutrition." Not only do people want to eat a specific diet, but people care about sourcing and sustainability.

The desire for cleaner food is growing as awareness around global warming, overfishing, and the multitude of toxins in fish makes the news. And Big Food is also curious. At this time, several large companies have reached out to Wild Type, indicating that they want to be a part of this trend toward more sustainable and safe seafood too.
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