Austin startup developing lab-grown breasts gains national spotlight

Brisket, a Texas barbecue staple, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and the oil wells. An Austin company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to take this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on the technology to bring its lab-created cell culture breast to market in 2023. The company made news service Bloomberg’s new list of 50 startups to watch in the United States — one startup for each state.

BioBQ’s co-founders are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who is a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. . Kam is the CEO and Zoldan is the Scientific Director.

According to the Good Food Institute, this type of meat is real animal meat produced by growing animal cells in the laboratory.

“This method of production eliminates the need to raise and cultivate animals for food. Cultured meat is made up of the same types of cells arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissue, thus mimicking the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute explains.

It turns out that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in northwest Austin as a high school student. She gulped beef brisket with gravy and banana pudding during breaks at work.

“But over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer distinguish between my dogs and cats that I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to go vegan,” Kam wrote on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell culture burger, Kam set off on the path to starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as a co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell beef brisket and other barbecue meats, like jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than a year or more to raise and slaughter livestock. This process “helps control the content and taste of the meat, reduces the environmental impacts of meat production, and takes barbecuing to the next flavorful and sustainable level that consumers want,” the profile reads.

In 2020, Texas monthly Writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of ​​lab-grown breast that constantly bothers me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why pick one that’s so hard to make delicious? How about a whole beef sirloin? »

Kam offered a very entrepreneurial response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that chest is a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like terrific and challenging meat to demonstrate how this technology works.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan offered a more marketing-focused reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it in the market,” she told Zoldan in Vaughn.

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