Alternatives to animal protein include plant-based, fermentation-based, and cellular agriculture-based options – but all suffer from a lack of true ‘meatiness.’ Kyomei is using a novel strategy to scale production of meat myoglobin produced in plants. Their innovative ingredient will be the foundation of truly satisfying plant-based protein, providing the umami flavor that consumers crave. We spoke to Kyomei CEO, Meir Wachs, about Kyomei and the future of plant-based protein.
What was behind your motivation to found a biotech startup?
My journey into the life sciences really began as a means to look for a way to make an impact and a bigger impact rather than just selling proverbial widgets. It was a massive opportunity to make an impact on the world in a very specific, unique way. I thought that biology, synthetic biology and really, all of life science, had just incredible potential to alter the future of humanity.
This is really about impact. And in what arena can you have the most impact, given your skill set, given what you want to do? For me, it was a very deliberate attempt to find a good market, a good fit and a good means in which I can have that impact. Food production was so clear, so obvious, and we had the team and the means to do it. It was sort of a no brainer.
What fundamental idea are you challenging?
I think there’s a prevalent idea that to eat meat and to enjoy the taste of meat, you have to eat meat that is taken from a cow. We don’t think that’s the case.
I think historically, obviously, you get meat—beef or chicken—via an animal production system. Until relatively recently in human history, we didn’t have the technological tools in which we could produce these proteins in alternate ways. Suddenly we’re seeing that we can actually produce things, we can actually create meat using different production systems. In our case: using plant production systems, and we think it’s a far better way to get proteins.
How does Kyomei produce animal proteins?
Kyomei is producing meat proteins inside of plants.
We use plants as a system to produce meat proteins; the same proteins, the same amino acids that comprise meat proteins, we produce them inside of plants. Our first product and protein is myoglobin, or bovine MB. Myoglobin is a heme iron binding protein that gives meat its meaty flavor but we can produce it entirely inside of plants.
To the degree that we can make plant-based meat, or meat alternatives, taste more like meat—or even produce identical meat proteins to make meat alternatives taste more ‘meaty,’—people will realize you don’t need the cow to eat ‘meat.’ You can have the same protein, the same taste, the same flavor, but without the cow.
How does the founding team complement one another?
I think you could start businesses and build teams of people who are just like you. And that could be fun, but also could not be so effective. I think with this team, what’s really interesting is that we’re very different and very complementary. And it really stands out as unique in that sense.
I do not have a science background, I’ve not been trained in biology. My co founder did a PhD in biochemistry, and she spent many years in plant science labs, right. So right there, you understand this is a very different team in terms of complementariness. I’m bringing in the business experience, how to run and how to strategize, together with somebody in the hard sciences to make the product. So it’s a very complementary thing.
What is the mission of Kyomei?
We want to make better tasting plant-based products. We want to empower those products. So we are creating—we are producing, growing the ingredients from inside of the plants to power the next generation of meat alternatives.
In so doing, we hope to increase their consumption, to increase the availability and increase tastes, and make them taste better, make more people try them. It’s that simple. To the degree that we can accomplish that, and really contribute to that ecosystem of people trying to do that, empowering not just one product, but many products across the ecosystem, and become a platform empowering these products and making them taste better, to that degree, we can impact our world.