Share this post

🔑 Key Takeaways

  1. Wildtype Foods aims to grow real salmon from real cells, providing a sustainable alternative to traditional seafood and reducing the environmental impact of meat consumption and overfishing.
  2. Seizing opportunities and building lasting connections can lead to unexpected and fulfilling journeys, even diverting from initial career plans.
  3. Aligning business ideas with personal values and passions can lead to innovative solutions that contribute to sustainable and ethical food production, as demonstrated by the creation of Wildtype.
  4. The founders of Wildtype recognized the need for more sustainable and ethical alternatives to meet the growing demand for meat and seafood, highlighting the importance of conversations about sustainability and limited resources.
  5. The founders shifted from cultured foie gras to seafood and meats to positively impact the environment, putting in extra hours to optimize cell growth and nutrition.
  6. Sustainable seafood production involves tackling contamination and declining fish populations, as well as overcoming the limitations of lab-grown seafood in terms of taste and texture.
  7. The founders successfully developed a working prototype of cultivated salmon and impressed people with its taste and versatility, signaling a promising start for sustainable seafood.
  8. Wildtype Foods has developed a unique process to create salmon that looks and tastes different from traditional salmon, but still maintains a similar flavor profile.
  9. Embracing and overcoming failures is essential for scientific progress and transitioning from a lab concept to a successful business requires a diverse skillset and the ability to navigate complex challenges.
  10. The company is driven by the urgent need to save our oceans while also striving to provide a good return on investment, facing challenges in selling their products while waiting for FDA approval.
  11. Wildtype Foods plans to launch their cultivated seafood products with the support of commercial partners and FDA approval, aiming to offer sustainable choices and promote traceability in the seafood industry.

📝 Podcast Summary

Lab-grown salmon: An innovative solution to sustainable seafood consumption.

Wildtype Foods, a company founded by two friends, Justin Colbeck and Aria Elfenbein, is working on lab-grown salmon to provide a sustainable alternative to traditional seafood consumption. The company aims to grow real salmon from real cells, eliminating the need to kill fish for meat. Their products, which include sushi-grade fish, have the potential to become as common as plant-based substitutes in the near future. The founders, with backgrounds in foreign service and biology/cardiology respectively, met in a serendipitous dinner and decided to pursue this innovative idea. This advancement in stem cell technology offers a promising solution to address the environmental impact of meat consumption and overfishing in our oceans.

The meeting that ignited an entrepreneurial spark and a lasting friendship.

The meeting between Aryé and Justin sparked a deep friendship and mutual respect, leading to the idea of starting a business together. Both had different backgrounds and interests, but their curiosity and discussions on weekends ignited an entrepreneurial spark. They saw the potential for making a big impact in the world through their business venture. Aryé had initially planned to pursue a career in academia as a cardiologist, while Justin was taking a break from the State Department to pursue an MBA. However, their meeting shifted their focus towards creating a business that could have a significant effect on the planet. This meeting taught them the importance of seizing opportunities and building lasting connections.

The Inspiration and Realization Behind Lab-Grown Meat

The key takeaway is that the idea for cultivating meat came from a vacation in Australia where Aryé Elfenbein thought about the possibility of eating meat without harming animals. This led to the realization that it could be done and sparked their passion for creating lab-grown meat. They later discovered that others, like Dr. Mark Post, were already working on similar research. This shows that their idea was not only innovative but also aligned with a growing movement towards sustainable and ethical food production. It highlights the importance of finding a business idea that aligns with one's values and passions, which is what ultimately led to the creation of Wildtype.

Creating Sustainable and Ethical Alternatives to Traditional Meat Production

The founders of Wildtype were inspired to create cultivated meat due to their concerns about the environmental and moral consequences of traditional meat production. They recognized the need for more sustainable and ethical alternatives to meet the growing demand for meat and seafood. While being conscientious about their consumption, they also acknowledged the difficulty of balancing personal values and instincts. They chose to explore cultivated seafood as a potential solution, considering factors such as cost and controversy. Through their journey, they realized the potential impact of their work on the future of food and the need for conversations about sustainability and limited resources.

Shifting focus for a greater impact

The founders initially worked on creating cultured foie gras, but realized that to have a greater impact on the environment, they needed to focus on a product that more people consume. They shifted their attention to seafood and meats, with the goal of using their method of growing these foods to positively impact the environment. They rented lab space in San Francisco and conducted research on how to cultivate cells and optimize their growth. The founders balanced their work on this project with their day jobs, putting in extra hours during nights and weekends to learn about cell nutrition and optimal growing conditions.

The Challenges of Sustainable Seafood Production and Lab-Grown Alternatives

The challenge of sustainability in seafood production arises from the contamination and declining populations of wild fish, as well as the limitations and issues with fish farming. The demand for healthy seafood is increasing, but the supply is becoming more scarce. The lab-grown salmon initially lacked taste and texture, as cells alone cannot spontaneously organize into a complete product. This realization highlighted the distance still needed to be covered in developing a viable alternative. The takeaway is that sustainable seafood production requires addressing contamination and population decline while also overcoming the challenges of lab-grown seafood, such as replicating taste and texture.

Overcoming Challenges and Creating a Promising Start in Sustainable Seafood

The founders faced two fundamental questions in the early days: whether they could create a good product and whether it could be scaled into a successful business. Through the first year, they became more convinced that it was possible. One advantage they had was that roughly half of a fish's weight was typically discarded, giving them a 50% advantage over conventional seafood. They focused on creating a working prototype that tasted good, considering factors like cell density and flavor. When they debuted their salmon sashimi, people were impressed and enjoyed the various dishes made with the cultivated salmon. Although the cost was high, it was a promising start for the sustainable seafood.

Transforming Salmon: From Taste to Texture

The co-founders of Wildtype Foods developed a product that initially lacked visual appeal and structure, but had a good taste. The process of creating the product takes about four to six weeks, much faster than traditional salmon. The production facility is compared to a brewery, as it involves growing cells in steel tanks. The final product does not resemble a hunk of salmon found at a fish counter, but goes through a process where cells assume different forms, creating complex textures and flavors. While it may not smell exactly like salmon, it can have a mild flavor profile similar to fresh river-caught salmon.

The Challenges and Triumphs of Creating Salmon from Cells

The process of creating salmon from cells involves considering factors such as flavor, appearance, and cooking methods, which require input from chefs. Moving from the lab to running a business in this field requires a complementary skillset and the ability to navigate complex challenges. The entrepreneurs behind this venture have faced setbacks and failures, but they have learned to cope with and overcome these obstacles. Contamination issues and sterility problems have caused setbacks in the development of a vessel for cell growth. For every success, there are approximately 10 failures in both the business and laboratory aspects. Embracing and overcoming failures is an integral part of scientific progress.

Balancing financial pressure and environmental urgency in the transition from R&D to food production.

The pressure of financing and funding is a daily concern for the company, as they strive to transition from an R&D company to a food production company. Their gratitude to investors drives their desire to provide a good return on investment, but they are also motivated by the urgent need to address the perils facing our oceans. Without significant changes, biodiversity in the oceans could be lost by the middle of the century. While returning money to investors may have unintended consequences, it is also seen as a positive outcome for a mission as urgent as theirs. Time is running out, as evidenced by the drastic decline in salmon runs. The company aims to build a third source of seafood to supplement wild catch and farmed fish. However, they currently face challenges in selling their products as they await FDA approval. Tastings have been a valuable way to gather feedback from the public.

Wildtype Foods: Innovating Seafood for a Sustainable Future

The key takeaway from this discussion is that Wildtype Foods, a company working on cultivating seafood, has received interest from commercial partners and plans to launch once they receive FDA approval. They are particularly focused on producing bluefin tuna, a species on the brink of extinction. The company has started conversations with big grocery chains, who are interested in offering new and innovative products to their customers. The goal of Wildtype Foods is not to replace traditional fishing and farming methods but to provide consumers with more choices and promote sustainability. Their vision for the future includes increasing traceability and transparency in the seafood industry.