Dr. Björn Örvar from ORF Genetics, enlightens us on the firm’s innovative plant biotechnology offerings, derived from barley plants
ORF Genetics is an innovative plant biotechnology company and a pioneer in developing and manufacturing high-quality recombinant proteins, such as growth factors, derived from barley plants. Founded in 2001, it has developed a unique technology, ORFEUS, which uses barley grain as a factory for recombinant protein production, providing a more efficient and safer method than other protein expression systems provide. The barley is grown in ORF’s own high-tech, eco-friendly greenhouse, which is isolated in a black lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland, using the countries rich renewable energy resources.
ORFEUS has allowed ORF to develop a portfolio of growth factors, including human-like growth factors in the stem cell research market, as well as for its own successful skincare brand, BIOEFFECT. ORF’s latest project, MESOkine, allows the production of animal-like growth factors in the cell cultured meat market.
Meat industry disrupted
The world’s meat industry is facing numerous challenges. Currently, 50% of the world’s vegetated land is being used for meat production and the demand for meat is rapidly growing. By 2050, when the world’s population will be close to 10 billion, food demand will have increased by approximately 56% and a shortfall in the supply of meat has been projected. Moreover, looming safety-, environmental-, and ethical concerns associated with the meat industry pose further challenges, providing momentum for disruption.
Cell cultured meat (CCM), even in its early stages, shows great merit over conventional meat and has the potential to disrupt the meat industry, helping the industry to overcome its challenges. An incredible amount of meat can be produced from a small sample of animal stem cells, without involving the slaughtering of animals. In comparison to conventionally produced meat, CCM uses 7-45% less energy, 90% less land, and 82-96% less water with 78-96% lower GHG emissions. Furthermore, CCM opens the prospect for land reforestation and restoration of endangered species.
150 cattle to supply the world’s consumption
To grow cell cultured meat, a tiny sample of stem cells is first collected from a muscle in the animal of choice and multiplied to millions of cells. The cells then differentiated into meat cells with a taste and texture that is comparable to traditional meat. Growth factors are essential for this process as they control the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells.
It has been estimated that 10 thousand kilos of meat could be produced from a single cattle stem cell and that stem cells from as few as 150 cattle could provide enough meat to supply the world’s current annual meat consumption. Similarly, stem cells from single cattle could provide enough meat to make 175 million hamburgers, of which 440 thousand cattle would otherwise have to be slaughtered.
MESOkine: Affordable & easily scalable growth factors
ORF Genetics’ newest product, MESOkine, brings together ORF Genetics’ experience and expertise in barley biotechnology to produce affordable, easily scalable, high-quality growth factors essential to the CCM industry.
MESOkine is a defined barley seed extract, containing the purified recombinant growth factor along with selected barley seed proteins. The MESOkine portfolio will offer recombinant animal growth factors of the highest quality from different species. The first animal versions of MESOkine growth factors are in their final stages of development and will be available for testing in the summer of 2021.
Increased precision in cell culture
MESOkine, which is plant-based, has important merits over animal growth factors. Its production bypasses entirely the use of bacteria and the use of animal or human cells, resulting in endotoxin-free growth factors. Endotoxin is a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria like E. coli, where it serves as a major structural component.
Since E. coli-based production systems are the most used expression systems for recombinant proteins, endotoxin contamination has long been a considerable problem for researchers and manufacturers. Therefore, applying endotoxin-free growth factors leads to increased precision, increased reproducibility, time and resource efficiency, and a smoother transfer of pre-clinical experiments to clinical trials.
Ethical foie gras on the horizon
Environmental and ethical concerns regarding the conventional meat industry have resulted in increasing numbers of people choosing to decrease their meat consumption, a trend that is pushing forward CCM development. The global consulting firm Kearney has projected that CCM will have gained a 10% share of the global meat market by 2030, increasing to 35% by 2040.
The first steps of CCM to market have already been taken. In December 2020, Singapore gave regulatory approval for chicken meat produced by the U.S. start-up Eat Just. Since then, Eat Just’s chicken nuggets have already been served at a restaurant in Singapore, making them the world’s first commercial sale of CCM. Singapore’s regulatory approval is an important milestone for the CCM industry, as its success is heavily dependent on regulatory approval across the world.
Several entrepreneurs report they are soon ready for scale-up and market launch. For instance, the Dutch entrepreneur Mosa Meat is working on pilot plant production of CCM hamburgers and scaling down costs, and the French start-up Gourmey aims to market its cell cultured foie gras by 2023 or 2024.
Cost reduction is key
It is no longer a question of if, but rather when CCM reaches supermarket shelves across the world. CCM production is still relatively expensive compared to conventional meat, and reducing costs is, therefore, key to getting CCM to market on a larger scale.
ORF Genetics aims for a paradigm shift in cell cultured meat production with its new product line by meeting the industry’s needs for dramatic cost reduction and access to fast scale-up for animal growth factors. MESOkine’s unique qualities will aid in cost reduction and up-scaling of CCM production, with safer and more precise growth factors than currently available.
*Please note: This is a commercial profile