In an interview with AgFunderNews revealed in June, Upside chief working officer Amy Chen confirmed that its whole-cut rooster product was nonetheless being made in 2-liter curler bottles. Upside’s web site—which features a web page devoted to explaining the manufacturing of its rooster—makes no point out of curler bottles.
“We are already producing whole cuts, whole tissue products. Rather than producing cells in a suspension or in a slurry, we are producing whole tissues directly out of the cultivator,” former senior vice chairman of operations Steve Myrick informed Meat+Poultry journal in April 2021. When Upside opened its pilot manufacturing unit in Emeryville in November 2021, CEO Uma Valeti additionally touted its potential to make all types of meat. “Here, you can produce any kind of meat, poultry, or seafood that you can imagine. Including both ground and whole cuts of meat,” he mentioned at the opening ceremony, in a video livestreamed from the power.
But former and present staff say that these claims exaggerate Upside’s technical capabilities. Internally, staff would joke that the startup might be the subsequent Theranos—the blood testing startup that imploded spectacularly, ending with its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, being convicted of fraud. “It was a running joke: ‘Are we the next Theranos?’” says one former worker. “I don’t think it necessarily means that they are the next Theranos,” the previous worker provides. “No one is dying. People are being lied to, but no one is going to die. Ideally.” Another former worker confirmed that staffers at the corporate would make jokes evaluating Upside to Theranos.
Now, Upside appears to be placing its whole-cut fillets on the again burner. On September 14, Upside introduced plans to construct a 187,000-square-foot facility in Glenview, Illinois, that can initially be dedicated to creating nugget-like ground-chicken merchandise—a course of for which Upside has but to obtain a inexperienced gentle from regulators. Announcing the brand new facility, Upside mentioned that, as soon as full, it might not produce the “whole-textured” rooster it’s been serving, although the corporate goals to take action “in the future.”
The public tasting at Bar Crenn was imagined to sign that the period of lab-grown meat had lastly arrived. Instead, sources declare, Upside has struggled with technical setbacks, whereas projecting a picture of getting solved the important thing scientific problem of scaling up the manufacturing of complete cuts of meat. The revelations increase questions on precisely how a lot cultured meat corporations, after practically $3 billion in funding over the previous seven years, have achieved—and whether or not sure forms of cultivated meat merchandise can ever be commercially viable.
For a nascent trade, the cultured-meat startup scene is crowded. Every firm has its personal spin on the expertise—a method to set itself aside from opponents. Some are opting to copy high-end merchandise like sushi-grade salmon. Others are going extra unique, with unusual riffs on mammoth meat. California-based SciFi Foods is leaning into the weirdness of all of it, experimenting with beef burgers which have as little as 5 % animal cells combined with plant-based elements.
Upside’s potential to supply complete cuts of meat is a degree of distinction from its opponents—an obvious technological head begin that has given Upside an edge on the subject of elevating funds. The startup has raised greater than $600 million in funding since 2016—attracting greater than a fifth of all of the capital raised by cultured meat corporations as much as the top of 2022, in response to information from PitchBook and the Good Food Institute. Its record of buyers contains SoftBank, Cargill, Richard Branson, and the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund.
There are, roughly talking, two methods of turning animal cells right into a cultivated meat product. The best and least expensive is to develop cells in suspension, which implies mixing free-floating cells in a bioreactor with liquid feed and ready till these cells have divided and matured. These suspension cells can then be harvested as a meat slurry and processed into ground-meat merchandise like sizzling canine and rooster nuggets. Adding plant-based elements and processing the ensuing combination may help mimic the feel of whole-cut meats, however to actually nail that mouthfeel, corporations will most likely have to transcend suspension cells, says David Kaplan, head of the mobile agriculture lab at Tufts University in Boston.
The different possibility is to discover a method to make cells knit collectively and kind sheets of tissue as they develop. Stacking and urgent these sheets collectively can lead to a texture that’s nearer to a rooster breast than a rooster nugget.
…. to be continued
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