Cultivated, Cell-Cultured & Biotechnology

10 Molecular Farming Startups Transforming Everyday Plants into Protein Powerhouses

Today, we bring you a roundup of molecular farming startups transforming plants into biofactories to produce alternatives to animal proteins, pigments, next-gen sweeteners, and growth factors.

Plant molecular farming, an additional production approach to plant-based, cultivated, and fermentation, promises unlimited and cost-effective ingredients for food and other industries. Since it doesn’t require expensive infrastructure and bioreactors — only the magic of plants and bioengineering —  existing greenhouses and fields can become ingredient factories, ensuring a straightforward industrial scale-up and competitive prices.

Each of the following startups has chosen a plant as its production facility:

1. VelozBio, Mexico: Discarded  fruits

VelozBio, a startup based in Monterrey founded in 2020,  claims to have developed the world’s fastest protein design and development platform. VelozBio produces high-value proteins, including casein, by expressing target proteins efficiently and affordably in discarded fruits. The Mexican startup leverages its founders’ expertise in functional food extracts to disrupt protein production economics through a fast, decentralized, and zero CapEx molecular farming approach — without farming.

New Zealand's Miruku, a startup growing dairy proteins in plants, has raised $5 million (NZD 8 million) in a pre-series A round to support its B2B model.
Back: (L) Abby Thompson and Ira Bing – Front: (L) Thomas Buchanan, Amos Palfreyman, and Lachlan Nixon (Motion Capital) © Miruku

2. Miriku, New Zealand: Oilseed crops

Miruku develops dairy proteins and fats using oilseed crops and its molecular farming system. The startup says that its approach promises to offer an efficient solution to meet global dairy protein demand while reducing the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Miruku, operating since 2020, recently raised $5 million to improve its tech, conduct trials, and develop its first proof of concept.

3. Alpine Bio, USA: Soybeans

Alpine Bio, previously Nobell Foods, uses soybean plants to produce casein for cheese. By choosing these plants, the startup takes advantage of a whole agricultural system — from farming to protein extraction — to install its platform. Based in San Francisco, the startup raised $75 million in 2021. Alpine Bio has 10 US patents on dairy food compositions containing plant-expressed recombinant casein proteins.

Nobell Foods
© Nobell Foods

4. Forte Protein, USA: Lettuce & kale

Based in New York State, Forte Protein has developed an expression system that utilizes lettuce or kale to produce meat, fish, and dairy proteins without animals, including lactoferrin, casein, albumin, collagen, and myosin. Its process can be installed in greenhouses and is said to be scalable, sustainable, and waste-free as it repurposes waste as fertilizer and plant waste to be used as feedstock, fertilizer, or biofuel.

5. Kyomei, UK: Any crop

Cambridge’s Kyomei produces animal-identical proteins in plants, including the heme myoglobin, the popular compound used for tasty and bleeding plant-based burgers. Founded in 2021, the startup aims to transform agriculture and the food industry by offering sustainable, cost-effective production methods.

Finally Foods utilize plants as "bioreactors," modifying them with cutting-edge technology to grow sustainable alternatives to animal-based proteins, starting with casein to make cheese.
© Finally Foods

6. Finally Foods, Israel: Potatoes

Finally Foods utilizes potatoes as bioreactors to grow animal proteins, starting with casein, the key functional protein in cheese. According to the startup, extracting proteins from potatoes is more straightforward than from leaves or beans. The startup, which emerged out of stealth mode recently with pre-seed funding from The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, leverages AI to rapidly discover and develop biological markers for genetic engineering.

7. IngredientWerks, USA: Corn

IngredientWerks a spin-off from the biotech firm AgriVida, uses corn to produce high-value proteins like bovine heme myoglobin, casein, and leghemoglobin (plant’s heme). The company claims that its tech can successfully express 10 mg of myoglobin per corn and calls its maize “meaty corn.” IngredientWerks will leverage the immense capacity of the US agricultural and processing infrastructure to produce these valuable proteins at an industrial scale.

8. Elo Life Systems, USA: Watermelon

North Carolina’s Elo Life Systemswhich describes itself as the “next-generation ingredient company,” leverages molecular farming and watermelon plants to produce a monk-fruit-inspired sweetener that is said to be sweeter than sugar while offering zero calories, rendering it safe for people with diabetes.

The company, a 2021 spin-off of Precision BioSciences, is also working with Dole on fungal-resistant cavendish banana to save the popular variety from extinction. Last year, the company raised $24.5 million to accelerate development of its fruit-derived sweetener and $20.5 million this January.

Barley in a petri-dish
© ORF Genetics

9. ORF Genetics, Iceland: Barley

Iceland’s Orf Genetics uses barley grains to produce recombinant proteins for various industries. The company initially only focused on human growth factors and cytokines for stem cell research but later expanded into the cosmetics industry producing a protein that stimulates elastin and collagen production.

MESOkine, the company’s cost-effective solution for cultivated meat, is an extract derived from barley seeds containing purified recombinant growth factors to help cells grow. Established in 2001, ORF Genetics grows barley in the Reykjanes Peninsula, a lava area.

10. PoLoPo, Israel: Potatoes

PoLoPo has developed a plant molecular farming platform to grow egg proteins in potatoes, starting with ovalbumin for the food industry. Additionally, PoLoPo extracts patatin, the natural protein in potatoes, for use in multiple F&B products. While the proteins extracted from the tubers are not GMOs, the whole genetically engineered potatoes could be used to create the most nutritious chips. The startup has raised $2.3 million, including $1.75 million in a pre-seed funding round last year.

“The production of ovalbumin in plants, not animals, will transform food processing with a price- and supply chain-stable option and set off a domino effect in sustainability, a big first step toward changing our food industry,” says PoLoPo CEO Maya Sapir-Mir.

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