Cultivated meat from cows: How Omeat uses plasma to grow beef

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When renowned tissue engineer and medical bioengineer Ali Khademhosseini started thinking about entering the cultivated meat space, he looked at it differently.

Many companies making meat from cells take traditionally farmed animals completely out of the equation, something that Khademhosseini didn’t think was necessary.

“The general assumption is that it’s not necessarily the animal that’s bad,” Khademhosseini said. “The planet has had plenty of animals for hundreds of millions of years. But it’s really the way we’re doing things. It’s the number of animals, and that’s really the big challenge.”

Omeat, Khademhosseini’s company emerging from stealth today, uses animals to make cultivated meat. Instead of using cell growth media derived from pharmaceutical-grade ingredients or extracted fetal bovine serum, Omeat makes it from plasma drawn from its herd of cattle. The plasma, Khademhosseini said, has a wide variety of nutrients and factors that can naturally grow cells.

The result is a cost-effective, humane and sustainable method of making cultivated meat, he said. Through its process, Omeat can get 20 times more beef per cow than if it was slaughtered.

The company has already attracted quite a bit of attention from funders and others in the cultivated meat space. Last year, it raised $40 million in an oversubscribed Series A investment round with participation from Tyson Ventures, Google Ventures and S2G Ventures.

Khademhosseini said he attributes the company’s early attention to the fact that Omeat’s methods are scalable and can more quickly achieve cultivated beef at a cost equal to traditional beef. Omeat also relies on traditional animal agriculture for its business model.

“This company is building a bridge between the cultivated meat industry and pretty much the existing food, manufacturing and supply world — everything from cattle to sustainable agriculture type of folks,” he said. 

A fork pulls at a spaghetti noodle on a plate of spaghetti and meatballs made from Omeat's cultivated beef.

Spaghetti and meatballs made with Omeat’s cultivated beef.

Courtesy of Omeat

 

How it works

Compared to other cultivated meat companies, Omeat is both very similar and very different.

Omeat operates a traditional cattle farm. Its herd of cattle graze on its farm in California, providing both the cells to create meat and the media needed for them to grow. 

But its cultivated meat R&D facility — as well as the pilot plant Omeat is currently building near Los Angeles — looks and functions similar to those of other cultivated meat companies. Khademhosseini said Omeat uses similar bioreactors to grow its cells — but everything inside comes from actual cattle.

This kind of structure makes Omeat more easily scalable, Khademhosseini said. As the company grows, it can partner with existing cattle farmers that can supply everything needed for meat cultivation. Those items can go to the company’s manufacturing facilities.

“I think that this is something that’s totally logical,” Khademhosseini said. “The simplicity of it, that’s the beauty and the interesting aspect of it.”

On its own, the culture media from cattle plasma can drive cell yields that are similar to other cultivated meat companies, Khademhosseini said. In its bioreactor facility, Omeat has refined its system to make several bioprocess improvements that he said have increased its yields by a volume of 20% to 30%. 

A stack of three raw burgers made from Omeat's cultivated beef.

Burgers made from Omeat’s cultivated beef.

Courtesy of Omeat

 

Quickly reaching cost parity

Khademhosseini has been working to develop Omeat for about four years, but the company has largely stayed in the shadows.

The reason it is emerging from stealth now is that it met one of its key objectives.

“We’ve developed processes that we can basically get all our ingredients at the cost that would be required to make meat at price parity,” he said. “So it’s really a matter of scaling at this point.”

For many cultivated meat companies, cell growth media is the most expensive component.



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