Boston company Motif Ingredients, a food tech startup from the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, has secured from Breakthrough Energy Ventures the largest amount of funding to date for a food tech company. Breakthrough Energy Ventures includes investors from the billionaire founders of Virgin, Microsoft and Amazon.
Motif Ingredients goal is to create plant-based versions of meat and dairy and ‘cultured meat’ grown from animal cells in bioreactors. The startup will identify ingredients including vitamins and proteins found in milk and meat and then reproduce them with engineered yeasts and bacteria in a fermentation process similar to making beer. The difference being that instead of producing alcohol, the yeast creates the by-products needed for the manufacture of plant-based meat and dairy. The challenges are replicating the characteristics of the original animal product, texture and taste whilst also providing the nutrition. For example, meat and eggs contain ‘complete’ proteins, so the company will need to engineer its products to contain the amino acids needed to rival the protein of the original animal product.
This type of work is difficult for a start-up (or even an established food giant) to do on its own. “Proteins are very hard to formulate in food,” says Motif’s CEO, Jonathan McIntyre.
“There’s a clear trend of consumer interest in alternate proteins and animal-free versions of fish and burgers and chicken nuggets and all of these things,” says Jason Kelly, the CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks,
“And these companies are kind of being asked to do this impossible thing, which was like, hey, build a brand, develop a new product, and while you’re at it, why don’t you boot up a biotech R&D team to make some of these key protein ingredients that you’re going to need to actually make these things,” he told Fast Company.