Back in September, GFI called for applicants for a $3 million grant to fund research into plant- and cell-based meat. Yesterday, the company named the 14 winning scientists, each of whom will receive up to $250,000 over the next two years to fund their investigations.
The chosen projects are pretty evenly divided between cell-based meat (six companies) and plant-based meat (eight companies). Some topics were broad, like how to scale up cell-based meat production, how to improve texture in plant-based meats. Others were quite specific, like a project exploring the potential of red seaweed as a meat substitute, or a Norwegian research center building out a “farmyard” of animal tissue for cell-based meat.
The most interesting part of the grant awards, however, is the purpose behind the grant itself. According to an email from GFI to The Spoon, the grant was created in order to establish “a base of scientific inquiry” in the meat alternative space. The email goes on to say that the science of plant-based and cell-based meat “skipped a step,” leaping immediately from idea to product in development by private companies. That means that there’s no scientific basis for the technology, so meat alternative companies end up doing duplicating a lot of scientific legwork.
Which is actually true. Many cell-based and plant-based companies are very protective of their technologies (the exception being Shojinmeat’s open source clean meat initiative), so any new company in the space basically has to start from scratch. That means a lot of trial and error, a lot of wasted money, and a slower route towards the end goal: making a product that tastes as good as — and costs less than — traditional meat.
But if the GFI’s chosen scientists can help establish some base framework for the technology used to create plant-based and cell-based meats, alterna-meat companies new and old could use it as a resource to optimize R&D and eventual product scaling. And with $250,000 in their coffers, hopefully the winning scientists will be able to do just that.