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Spotlight: Aleph Farms

Published on
Apr 26, 2023
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Aleph Farms is an Israel-based food technology company designing new ways to grow quality animal products that improve sustainability, food security and animal welfare in our food systems. Founded in 2017, the company utilized cellular agriculture technology to unveil the world’s first cultivated thin-cut steak in 2018, the world’s first cultivated ribeye steak in 2021, and cultivated collagen in 2022. Under its product brand, Aleph Cuts, the company will launch its first product, the Petit Steak, grown from the non-modified cells of a premium Angus cow. For its contributions to climate leadership including a net zero commitment made in 2020, it has received top accolades from the World Economic Forum and the United Nations.

Can you tell us about what the genesis was of founding Aleph Farms?

Didier Toubia, our Co-Founder and CEO, was intent on addressing malnutrition and food security. This meant fixing the structural issues in global food systems. In 2016, he met The Kitchen Hub and world-renowned tissue-engineering scientist Professor Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. Their interests aligned and the next year, they became co-founders and initiated a technology transfer from Shulamit’s lab. This was the beginning of Aleph Farms and its mission to support a just and inclusive transition to sustainable and secure food systems.

From a very simple perspective, what is the big idea that fuels your mission?

What fuels our mission is the intense need for better access to quality nutrition and the fact that food systems are not acclimating quickly enough to ever-changing circumstances.

The kind of agriculture that produced food for the planet’s 1.6 billion people at the turn of the twentieth century cannot sustainably feed today’s population of 8 billion, and certainly not more than that as the human population continues to rise. 

In order to help build more secure and sustainable food systems, we design new ways to grow quality animal products that are accessible regardless of climate or availability of local land. We do this via cellular agriculture – a part of animal agriculture that harnesses cells to grow such products in controlled environments.

Can you share the scientific process that allows you to produce real, genuine steak, without the need for harming animals? From start to finish, what does that process look like?

We source a fertilized egg from a premium Black Angus cow named Lucy, allow it to develop for a short period of time, and then derive cells from it. These cells have the potential to mature into the different types of cells that make up meat, like muscle and collagen-producing cells. The cells are preserved at sub-zero temperatures in our cell bank and can be used to cultivate Aleph Cuts. 

Next, we move a small number of starter cells into a growth tank called a cultivator. Our cultivators provide a temperature-controlled, clean, and closed environment where cells can thrive. The cell feed contains everything the cells need to live and grow, including water, oxygen, nutrients, and growth factors. In this environment, our starter cells quickly produce many duplicates.

We transfer the young cells into separate cultivators to mature into different cell types for muscle and collagen. Inside a cow, a network of proteins and other molecules would surround, support, and give structure to these cells. At Aleph Farms, we model this process with a plant protein matrix made of soy and wheat, which enables the cells to form the shape and texture of an Aleph Cut.

In just about four weeks our Cuts are ready for harvesting and packaging. They are stored and ready for distribution to our chef partners. Whether served as a whole cut, sliced, or shredded, chefs are able to create traditional or new innovative dishes with Aleph Cuts.

What would you say to someone who is skeptical about the future of meat being made from science? This clearly is a polarising discussion in our society. How do you and the team at Aleph think about that?

The more that people come to understand what cultivated meat entails (and doesn’t entail), the more they will see it as a safe source of high-quality protein. This is why research from across different markets shows that many people are actually quite eager to try cultivated meat, and it’s why we’re very confident about the prospects of long-term consumer acceptance. 

Working with cells instead of entire animals means we don’t depend on countless convoluted, overstretched supply chains. Instead, we oversee production with amazing precision all in one location. This means transparency in how we grow tasty, nutritious and safe products. It also means that we can grow products with which diners can connect on an emotional level. It’s why chefs are excited to incorporate cultivated meat into local customs and classic dishes – they know that diners will line up to try it!

You were a part of one of the most historic moments for cultivated meat ever, which was producing cultivated meat in space. Can you tell us about that? For someone who is unfamiliar, how is that even possible and what are the possible positive implications of that for the future?

Aleph Zero is Aleph Farms’ space program.

In 2019, Aleph Farms conducted its first experiment in outer space. We partnered with 3D Bioprinting Solutions to form a 3D bioprinted cow muscle tissue comprising several cell types in space (muscle tissue and connective tissue). This experiment took place on the International Space Station (ISS). 

As part of Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), Aleph Zero sent aboard the SpaceX rocket a container that included cow cells and everything those cells would need to proliferate and differentiate.

Aleph Zero’s incorporation into Israel’s Rakia Mission, part of Ax-1, was focused on tackling the challenge of cultivating cells in microgravity. Validating this process of production in such a unique and extreme environment helps us develop a circular and near-zero resources food system here on Earth.

Through the mission’s findings, we will better understand the effects of microgravity on proliferation and differentiation, which are two of the fundamental processes of our production platform for thin-cut steaks.

Is space an important part of your mission art Aleph? If so, can you share a bit more about that?

What connects Aleph Farms' main activities to Aleph Zero is our vision, which is unconditional access to animal products for anyone, anytime and anywhere.

Aleph Zero serves both our short-term and long-term endeavors on Earth. It's akin to car manufacturers and their Formula One teams choosing to test and validate new technologies or materials in the toughest environments before incorporating them into mainstream cars. The constraints and extremes of space foster creativity. Beyond letting us explore the frontiers of closed-loop, circular and near-zero resources production of cultivated meat, our space program better enables us to apply new technologies to our sustainability practices on Earth.

Clearly, Aleph Farms has attracted some significant investors and partners, such as Cargill and Leonardo Dicaprio. Is there something in particular you would attribute that to and what do people tend to find most exciting about what you are building?

We’re addressing a big question: how to provide adequate nutrition for billions of people, and we’re doing it with technology that is, at least for many people, uncharted territory, so it’s exciting and the prospects of achievement are enormous. This is true from a business perspective and also from an impact perspective – impact for people, the planet, and animals.

It’s also about being able to resonate, and I believe our branding plays a big role here. We recently launched Aleph Cuts, our first product brand and the home of our cultivated steaks. Our approach with Aleph Cuts is about building a brand with consumers, not just for them. This resonates with people, and I think it will get even better as we launch and develop more product brands in the future.

From your perspective, what is going to be the path to massive adoption for cultivated steak? What obstacles need to be overcome for this to be in grocery stores and restaurants everywhere?

The path involves developing meaningful partnerships across animal agriculture and strengthening our proprietary capabilities – our technology backbone – even further. This is how we can offer diners a wide array of quality animal products.

Regarding obstacles, at-scale production costs represent a major one. To address such costs, we are developing specific technological modules in our production platform and establishing strategic agreements across our supply chains. For instance, manufacturing customized growth media for cell culture, a key component of our production process, is expensive, so in order to keep this cost in check, we establish supply chain agreements that allow us to procure growth media at the quantity, quality and cost that match food industry standards.

When people say lab grown meat is a far away future and that it simply won’t be embraced by individuals, what would your view on that be?

We disagree and look forward to demonstrating otherwise.

What excites you most about what you are building at Aleph?

Our Whole Animal Strategy is incredibly exciting. It is what lets us concentrate our efforts on a species that is especially resource-demanding. 

As part of this strategy, we are developing several nature-identical types of cultivated collagen, which is the most abundant protein in the extracellular matrix (ECM) and has numerous commercial benefits. The production platforms for our steaks and collagen share similar inputs (same source of non-modified cow cells, as well as a FBS-free growth medium) and are produced using similar techniques and equipment in cultivators. These operational synergies contribute to faster cost-reduction in our production platforms, leveraging economies of scale and deep-tech innovations.

Who is someone who is doing incredible work in the world of cultivated meat that more people should be aware of?

One person to definitely keep an eye on is Megumi Avigail Yoshitomi. She is a director with the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture, which helps create the country’s rules for commercializing cell-based food products, including cultivated meat. She is also an investment banking analyst who covers cross-border merger and acquisition advisory. This combination makes Yoshitomi a force in the world of cellular agriculture. She understands that even the best ideas require refined finances and logistics to gain trust and manifest themselves appropriately.

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