Building Food Molecule by Molecule

Post By Ron Shigeta

Lessons learned in Biotech Food Innovation

Over our first four classes and 55 startups funded, IndieBio has built up a new class of food companies. We are so honored that AgFunder’s annual survey voted IndieBio one of the Top 3 most valuable’ accelerators in AgTech.

It’s been a lesson for us that biology can have such an impact on food. About a quarter of our portfolio are food and Ag companies. which have many approaches to food but are each highly innovative. Together they have created a new philosophy of how to improve food quality, reduce waste, transparency and achieve eco-sustainability; Molecular Foods.

The impact on life sciences for food up to now has been quiet but pervasive. Nearly everything we eat is checked for quality and nutritional content. The protein content of seafood (which breaks down as it gets old), the gluten and protein content of grain (which varies depending on how its grown and stored), the melting point of fats and dozens of other tests are run on food coming in from producers and wholesalers worldwide. Now verification is becoming an issue — DNA sequencing is showing that the species of one in three fish sold is not as advertised.

Over nearly 60 years of intensive development in making pharmaceuticals, assisting cutting edge R&D, the tried and tested staples of life siences can impact a market like food (and others). Life sciences is allowing for high end quality while scaling to feed us affordably. Producing food while understanding each molecule in it, Molecular Food writes food quality instead of just reading it.

“Molecular Food doesn’t just read food quality, it writes it.”

We’ve funded several approaches to Molecular Food. Also surprising has been that all of the food solutions we’ve funded heretofore are non-GMO and most can be organic/biologique. Here I describe five types of food innovation we have participated in as Molecular Foods to try to

Next-gen plant-based foods

These companies make foods we know and love using ingredients only from plants. Following ambitious companies like Hampton Creek and Impossible Foods that thoroughly produce the foods we want to eat but without expensive animals.

By combining proteins, fats, carbohydrates etc from different sources, foods with the same texture, mouth feel — the same experience — are created. New experiences that cannot be gotten any other way are also emerging.

Plant ingredients are less resource-intensive and have much fewer issues with bio-contaminants like Salmonella and E. coli. Eating plant based foods is healthier overall and that’s why the demand is outpacing the overall market for these foods.

Clean meat

The trillion dollar North American meat product is another target for better transparency and quality. Memphis Meats produces muscle cells directly for meat products, producing the cellular structures that give meat its full satisfying texture. All with a fraction of the resources and cost.

Brewed foods

Geltor and Clara Foods use yeast strains to brew up protein based foods like gelatin and egg whites. Working with them was an amazing experience. Tasting these foods coming out of fermentation like you’d find in a brewery, not only were they the familiar experience you’d experience but the ability to control the quality was a clear advantage. The ingredients are made and ready to use in hours; all of the inputs and the purity coming out are documentable with consistency that you can see. This will cut down on opaque and sometimes global supply chains that make much of our food today.

Understanding of taste, memory, and experience

Later companies include Ava Labs, GEA Enzymes and MiraculeX, which take a fresh look at wine, fats, and non-sugar sweeteners respectively. Each can create the experience of foods. Ava Labs has been creating better and better wines from the molecules that make it up. Among other possibilities they may become a historical repository for vintages which Ava Winery can help recall and reproduce rare tastes that change over time and are eventually lost forever. Later this week GEA Enzymes will present the worlds first fully liquid dark chocolate — an espresso like experience that has the full range of tastes of an exclusive dark chocolate without the dry and crumbly mouth feel.

Along the supply chain from farm to table

We have also worked with AgTech companies that have a strong biotech foundation. EnduraBio has a natural plant extract spray that cut the water consumption of a crop plant in half in a test they did with us. AstronaBio produced a 20 minute test for food pathogens, replacing a 3 day testing cycle. Pure Cultures and Animal Biome are unravelling tangle of the microbiome and producing products that work; a feed supplement that replaces antibiotics and a treatment for severe diarrhea in companion animals respectively.

“Molecular Food” is certainly an idea in progress, but the potential to fix security, waste and consistency in the global supply change has been an exciting realization that will mature in the near future.

Join me for the Future Food-Tech summit in San Francisco March 29-30.

Use the code INDIE300 and get $300 off registration.

The Edible Bioeconomy – Panel and Mixer in SF, May 29

The Edible Bioeconomy


Network and meet with some of the new wave of entrepreneurs that are changing the way we look at food at the intersection of cuisine and biotech, creating sustainable, safer food and new experiences and address the problems of industrial agriculture.

Featuring beer brewed with strains of exotic belgian beers, vegan sushi made from tomatoes, and milk and egg whites made from yeast.

Join us in conversation with:

  • James Corwell, Certified Master Chef, creator of Tomato Sushi a sustainable vegan sushi.
  • Arturo Elizondo, Clara Foods, brewed egg whites.
  • Ryan Pandya, Muufri, where the future of Milk is without cows.
  • Matt Markus, Pembient, wildlife ingredients sourced from science.

Hosted by Isha Datar of New Harvest, a sustainable food non-profit

Join us after the discussion for samplings of vegan Sushi from Tomato Sushi and bespoke Cultured Fresh Beer from Almanac Beer.

Sponsored by New Harvest SynBioBeta and Indie Bio

Event Link: JOIN US 

#Sciencehack : Transforming Science through Collaboration

Transforming Science through Collaboration
Thanks to Connor Dickie of Synbiota for this guest post.  I can’t wait to get my hands on a kit!
It’s often said that collaboration is key. Why then, has collaboration in the life-sciences been so limited, when the products (medicine, materials, food, & fuel) are so important? The problem can’t be technical, It’s almost 2015! We’ve got more free and excellent collaboration tools at our fingertips than ever. Why then, is collaboration in life-science not the standard?
A lot of it has to do with an old mentality, one that was born when bringing a biotech product to market would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take a decade to complete. Just think, if you had a company that spent what amounts to a mountain of cash, and a significant part of a team of highly-paid researchers lives on a single product, you too would want keep your trade secrets pretty safe.
What happens then when bringing a biotech product to market costs less than $50k and takes only a year or two of development, or even less? This dream has not exactly happened yet in biotech, but it regularly happens in the IT sector, particularly with software, so let’s look there for insight as to how things might play out for biotech in the near future if collaboration and the Open Science model becomes as widely adopted as Open Source.
Remember (if you can) what computing was like in the 60’s and 70’s. Back then, a computer took up and entire room, and cost millions of dollars. Chances were that if you had access to a computer you had a PhD in computer science or math, and you were employed by the military, a research institute, or a large bank. Software was expensive, scarce, and cryptic.
Open Source Movement
By the mid 90’s all this had changed. Computers were ubiquitous, and the internet was connecting PCs and people from around the globe. Armed with the right tools and the idea of free and open software, cadres of computer scientists and developers were joined by students, hackers, designers and artists. This ragtag group started to coalesce into a community known as the Open Source Movement, which was built on the idea that by working together, a network of independent people could challenge the status quo. And boy did they ever!
Linux is often referenced as the poster-child of the Open Source movement, and for good reason. Since it’s early days, the dream of Linux was to replace Unix (the standard computer operating system used in mission-critical environments, easily costing over $10,000 per license) with a free and open alternative. Naysayers felt that this dream seemed insurmountable at best, and likely just a crazy pipe dream. But the power of a dedicated community, linked by the internet, wielding accessible tools, and each contributing a small part of the solution, changed the computing world forever.
What would it look like if a similar story played out in biotech? What would the benefits be to society be? Could we realize the dream of free, open, and trustworthy medicines? What if we could do the same for sustainable materials, food, and fuels? What would the world be like then?
While exciting to think about, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before these questions can be fully answered. There are some fundamental issues in biotech that make distributed collaboration difficult, and this is primarily the problem that we’ve addressed at Synbiota. We’ve taken lessons from the Open Source software movement and have applied them to biotech, and already we’re seeing exciting productivity gains for our users.
Open Science Movement
One of the biggest innovations we’ve brought to the Synbiota community is vastly increased project reproducibility when both our tools and integrated wetware are used together. By combining a common suite of free web-based, tools and an inexpensive, easy to use biological wetware standard, researchers and developers are able to hit the ground running, often producing results in weeks for just a few hundred dollars.
With this reduced cost and timeline to create working Synthetic Biology projects, we’re seeing an increasing amount of projects on Synbiota that are released to the public under a creative commons license – effectively Open Sourcing the science, which feeds back into the system making it easier to reproduce and extend existing projects, or even develop new projects based on previous work.
An example of Open Science in motion is the #ScienceHack initiative that we launched at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival. #ScienceHack demonstrates that using a common Synthetic Biology wetware kit, and Synbiota in a collaborative manner, it’s now possible to create real medicine at a cost a few orders of magnitude cheaper than Big Pharma.
Each #ScienceHack event uses the “Violacein Factory” wetware kit and a shared set of protocols that are freely available under a Creative Commons license. While the first #ScienceHack participants had only their hypothesis to inform their work, each subsequent #ScienceHack was able to leverage the Open Science results of previous #ScienceHacks – resulting in the first ever Synthetic Biology medicine created by a loosely affiliated group of scientists, artists, hackers, and students.
While the efforts of the Synbiota community have yet to change the status quo in biotech, #ScienceHack has successfully demonstrated that it is possible for motivated independent researchers to collaborate, and have a positive effect on the world using Synthetic Biology technology.
We hope this is just the start of something big. We continue to provide the tools, but it’s up to the community to turn this into a global movement that can offer an effective and open alternative to the status quo.