Can Tobacco Plants Aid in Developing Cultivated Meat?

March 29, 2022
BioBetter extracts growth factors for scaled cultivated meat production from tobacco plants.

Israeli foodtech start-up BioBetter Ltd. is repurposing tobacco plants to create the growth factors necessary for the cellular development of cultivated meat. "This landmark botanical breakthrough could significantly reduce the cost of cultivated meat and advance it rapidly to scale-up," a company announcement claims.

BioBetter harnessed the "inherent advantages" of tobacco plants by turning them into bioreactors for expression and large-scale production of the proteins needed within the growth factors (GFs) for culturing meat cells.

The start-up applies a proprietary protein extraction and purification technology that enables it to exploit nearly the entire plant, and at the same time deliver a high purity product at broad scale production. The cost of growth factors production is dramatically reduced, bringing cost efficiency to cultured meat production.

“There are multiple advantages to using Nicotiana tabacum as a hardy vector for producing GFs of non-animal origin,” says Amit Yaari, CEO of BioBetter. “It is an abundant crop that has no place in the food-and-feed chain due to its extremely bitter taste and content of undesirable alkaloids. The global trend for reducing smoking is raising concerns among tobacco growers that the crop might eventually become obsolete. Yet the tobacco plant has huge potential to become a key component in the future of food.”

Tobacco plants can achieve up to four growth cycles annually and be harvested all year. The company currently sources tobacco plants from local growers but the goal is to eventually source the raw material from tobacco growers globally.

BioBetter was founded by Prof. Oded Shoseyov, a serial entrepreneur and researcher at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Dana Yarden MD, MBA, a biotech business expert; and Avi Tzur, an industrialist with a vision to put tobacco plant to positive use. One of the company’s first tobacco plant-based creations was the drug Humira, a monoclonal antibody used to treat autoimmune diseases.

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