Meet the Women Pioneering Cultivated Meat

McKenna Maxwell
Apr 28 · 10 min read
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Whereas women have historically had barriers in business creation and pursuing STEM fields, today women are leading innovation in biotechnology, engineering, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. As the field of cultured meat and cellular agriculture is relatively new, the following women are at the forefront of the future of food. Their work is driving forward new methods of producing high-quality proteins - with numerous added benefits of sustainability, food safety, and species protection, among others.

What is cultivated meat? It starts with a sample of animal cells and is grown outside of the animal within a nutrient-rich environment. This cellular agriculture does not require the mass rearing of animals, has a significantly smaller land and water footprint, and is free of pathogens and other contaminants. Cultivated meat is identical to conventional meat at the cellular level — it looks, tastes, and cooks the same too.

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A snapshot of the rapid growth of the companies culturing meat. Image from: https://bit.ly/2VJpNkk

Currently, over 40 companies around the globe are cultivating protein, including ground beef, chicken tenders, pork sausage, foie gras, shrimp, salmon, bluefin tuna, and even cat food. Some companies, such as Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat and Integriculture, are aiming to release their cultured meat in restaurants or stores by 2021. And the heightened concerns about food safety and security surrounding coronavirus may accelerate the speed of investment, development, and regulation of these new products.

The following 22 entrepreneurs, research scientists, and non-profit leaders are among the first to develop these animal culture technologies. Many of these women have received awards and recognition for their achievements in entrepreneurial ventures and research. They are from across the globe, in Singapore, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Europe. And all of them are cultivating a new food system that is increasingly sustainable, healthy, and robust.

Entrepreneurs

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Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Dr. Ka Yi Ling, co-funders of Shiok Meats

Dr. Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling co-founded Shiok Meats, and are developing cell-based crustacean meats, ie. shrimp, crab, and lobster, in Singapore. Shiok means “fantastic” in Singapore. In March of 2019, Shiok Meats showcased the first-ever cultivated shrimp dumpling. These two women are at the forefront of cultivated seafood. Dr. Sriram earned her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences, has over 10 years of experience working with muscle, adipose, cells, and stem cells, and has been featured on Forbes Women in Tech for her entrepreneurial ventures. Dr. Ka Yi Ling was named as one of EmTech Asia’s Innovators Under 35 for her contribution to creating cell-based shrimp, her expertise is in stem cell development.

Shir Friedman is the co-founder and head of communication at SuperMeat. SuperMeat is an Israeli company pioneering cultivated chicken. Shir previously co-founded The Modern Agriculture Foundation, a non-profit that promotes cellular agriculture research and development. Shir is a passionate environmentalist and animal welfare advocate with over 10 years of experience in public speaking and communications. She speaks candidly about reducing the environmental cost of meat production on an episode of The Disruptive Environmentalist’s podcast.

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Carrie Chan, CEO of Avant Meats

Carrie Chan is the co-founder and CEO of Avant Meats in Hong Kong. Avant Meats’ motto is “Gratify without sacrifice”, and cultivates high quality and sustainable fish and seafood products, including mahi-mahi — a Chinese delicacy in such high demand that overfishing is endangering two fish species. The motto, therefore, suggests that cultivated mahi-mahi would taste great without sacrificing native fish populations. Carrie is a seasoned business leader and a passionate environmentalist with a particular interest in the impact of our diet on the planet.

Benjamina Bollag is the co-founder and CEO of Higher Steaks in the United Kingdom. Higher Steaks specializes in scaleup technology and is developing cultured pork sausage and bacon. Benjamina has a Masters's degree in Chemical Engineering and experience in digital marketing. Her life-long passion for commercial enterprise, along with her realization of the world’s food supply problem, drove her to develop Higher Steaks.

Niya Gupta is the co-founder and CEO of Fork & Goode in Brooklyn, New York, working to produce cultured pork products. Niya has spent over 10 years in the food and agriculture business and was formerly CEO of an urban farming company, Comcrop in Singapore. She holds an MBA and a Masters of Public Administration in International Development (MPAID) from Harvard and an Economics BA from Yale.

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Dr. Shannon Falconer, CEO of Because Animals

Dr. Shannon Falconer is the co-founder and CEO of Because Animals, a company developing cultivated pet food in Canada. She has a Ph.D. in microbial chemical biology and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. Dr. Falconer has spent over a decade volunteering in the animal rescue community and found inspiration to start her own cultured meat company by combining her scientific knowledge with her love of cats and dogs.

Dr. Mercedes Vila Juarez is the co-founder and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of Biotech Foods. Founded in 2017, Biotech Foods is Spain’s first cultivated meat production project and they specialize in developing technology to produce cultured meat. Dr. Juarez has over 10 years of research experience in the design and application of materials in biomedicine and understanding cell-materials surface interactions. In 2010 she was awarded the Lóreal-UNESCO Award “For Women in Science” as recognition of her research.

Ira Van Eelen is the co-founder and CEO of Kind Earth Tech (KET) which hosts conferences with 80% food-tech content (cultured meat, cheese-less cheese + bio-engineering) and 20% special features content (circular packaging, perspectives from farmers and activists, sustainable fashion). Ira is also an advisory board member for JUST and a senior consultant for the non-profit, Cellular Agriculture Society. Her father, Willem van Eelen is known as the “godfather of cultured meat” and was the first to advocate and file a patent, in 1994, for cultured meat.

Lead Scientists / Researchers

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Dr. Pallevi Srivastva, Lead Scientist at WildType

Dr. Pallevi Srivastva is the Lead Scientist and Head of Media & Process Development at Wild Type, headquartered in San Francisco. Wild Type is cultivating salmon and hosted a taste-test dinner in June 2019 offering six recipes of salmon. Her team works on reducing the cost and scale-up of Wild Type’s product. Her Ph.D. focused on the Molecular & Cell Biology pathways that promote cancer cell proliferation and the identification of therapeutic targets.

Dr. Neta Lavon is the Vice President of Research and Development at Aleph Farms in Israel. Aleph Farms grows meat cuts from beef cells using a 3D tissue engineering platform, debuting the world’s first whole muscle cultured steak in December 2018. Dr. Lavon is an expert in stem cell applications in biotechnology and has previously developed cell therapy products from stem cells for Motor Neuron Disease and Diabetes and has established and banked 25 novel pluripotent stem cell lines.

Marie Gibbons is a research scientist at Memphis Meats and a research fellow for the Good Food Institute (GFI). Memphis Meats, based in Berkeley, California, debuted the world’s first cultured meatball in 2016 and cultured chicken and duck in 2017. They recently made headlines for raising $116 million in January 2020 — the largest investment of any cultured meat company to date. At Memphis Meats, Marie is working to lower the cost of cultured meat production through animal-free media development and scale-up. Her research at GFI focuses on gene expression and how to increase cell proliferation and growth rate. Previously, she studied chicken and turkey culture growth at the non-profit, New Harvest.

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Dr. Lauran Madden, Assistant Director of Research & Product Development at BlueNalu

Dr. Lauran Madden is the Assistant Director of Research & Product Development at BlueNalu, a cultured seafood company in San Diego. Her expertise is in the design and development of cell expansion methods to generate 3D cell-based products. Dr. Madden wants to see how new food technology can protect the environment and provide consumers with safe seafood. Blue Nalu raised $20 million on March 3rd, 2020 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, signaling the importance of the continued development of cultured meats.

Parendi Birdie is the Scientific Project Manager at Mission Barns, a start-up focused on creating cultured fat and meat from duck and pig. Parendi has worked on molecular biology at cellular agricultural companies, JUST and Clara Foods, before joining Mission Barns. She discusses her story, how cultured meat can be part of the solution for antibiotic resistance, and “The (Cellular) Agricultural Revolution” on The VedgeTalk Podcast.

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Dr. Nina Buffi and Jordi Morales at the 2019 Cultured Meat Symposium in San Francisco

Dr. Nina Buffi is CTO and Co-Managing Director of OSPIN, a technology enabling company in the field of cultured meat. OSPIN is headquartered in Berlin and establishes cloud-based and modular bioprocessing platforms as the “operating system” of modern biotechnology. Dr. Buffi is a micro engineer by training and has developed a biosensor for the detection of arsenic in water during her Ph.D. at the Swiss Institute of Technology Lausanne.

Mariliis Holm is the Director of Food Science at Finless Foods, creating seafood without the catch. Finless Foods is a biotech seafood start-up in the Bay Area, California eliminating the need to harvest fish by creating fresh and environmentally-friendly seafood, starting with Bluefin tuna. Mariliis is also the co-founder of Nonfood, a radically sustainable algae-based food company that creates Nonbar, an algae-based nutrition bar that contains 42% algae and aquatic plant ingredients. She has her sights set to the future, contemplating and pursuing a sustainable way of how to feed Earth and Mars in 2050.

Dr. Maria Fernandes is a tissue engineering scientist at Meatable, a company in the Netherlands working on culturing pork and beef. Meatable is one of the few cultivated meat companies to receive government funding, having received a $3 million grant from the European Commission. Dr. Fernandes works with patented animal cell lines and the optimization of the production process. Her experience is specialized in the derivation, maintenance, and differentiation of induced pluripotent stem cells. Basically, she keeps cells happily growing so they can make delicious meat.

Natalie Rubio is working on her Ph.D. in Cellular Agriculture through a partnership between Tufts University and New Harvest. In 2013 she worked with Isha Datar in the early days of Perfect Day Foods while completing her B.S. in Chemical and Biological Engineering. She is currently studying cell culturing insects, or “Entomoculture”. She contends that insect cells are easier to culture than mammalian cells for a variety of reasons, ie. they can tolerate a broad range of environmental conditions, require less energy to culture, and could be a viable option for bringing cell-based meat to market more quickly.

Non-Profit

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Isha Datar, New Harvest CEO

Isha Datar is the CEO of New Harvest, a nonprofit dedicated to the field of cellular agriculture, focused on advancing scientific research of cultured animal products. The donor-funded research institute was established in 2004 and is based in Brooklyn, New York. It has been at the forefront of cell-ag research and has funded $2 million in academic studies that reinvent ways to make animal products — without animals.

Isha is also a co-founder of two cellular agriculture companies: Perfect Day, which is making milk without cows and Clara Foods, which is making eggs without chicken. When she joined New Harvest, she gave up her stake in both companies and established endowments to support the nonprofit’s research. In 2016, Techcrunch recognized her as one of 13 women leading the life sciences movement in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Kate Krueger is the Research Director at New Harvest. Her expertise is in biochemistry, structural biology, and cell biology. Before New Harvest, she worked at Perfect Day Foods alongside Isha, contributing to their foundational patent on novel milk proteins. Kate holds a Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Yale University and is passionate about using technology for the betterment of society.

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Dr. Liz Specht, Associate Director of Science and Technology at The Good Food Institute

Dr. Liz Specht is the Associate Director of Science & Technology at GFI, a non-profit that works with scientists, investors, and entrepreneurs to support clean and plant-based products. Dr. Specht analyzes cell and plant-based meat innovation, forecasts potential future bottlenecks, and distills those insights into public resources to help alleviate those obstacles. She is a firm believer in the power of technology to enable us to meet growing food demands in a sustainable way. And she recently authored an insightful article that addresses how “Modernizing Meat Production will Help us Avoid Pandemics”.

Jessica Almy is the Director of Policy at GFI and leads efforts to create a better future of food through regulatory reform for cultured meat in Washington D.C. She holds a J.D. from New York University School of Law and an M.S. in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University. Jessica’s advice to policymakers: 1) begin to invest public funding in research and development for plant-based and clean meat, and 2) work to ensure that there is a clear and efficient pathway to bring clean meat to the market.

Resources

Interested in joining this growing biotech field? See the latest job openings on CellAgri here.

Want to learn more about cultured meat? Listen to Dr. Liz Specht’s ‘Clean Meat 101’ talk here.

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