Cell-based eel startup boasts new cultivation technology

cell-cultured eel
Forsea Foods’ cell-cultured eel

Forsea Foods hopes to relieve the bottleneck in seafood supply with its cell-cultured eel meat

© Forsea Foods

With the dawn of the cell-cultured seafood making waves, a new player has landed. FoodTech startup Forsea Foods announces it has brought this novel concept closer to its natural origins through its patented organoid technology.

Previously used in developmental biology, medicine and research, organoids are stem cell-derived, three-dimensional tissue structures that when used in cell-cultured seafood products require only a minimal amount of growth factors. The startup announced that it is kicking off its activities by targeting supply gaps in the eel meat market

Developed by Iftach Nachman, PhD, co-founder of Forsea, the organoid approach to forming fish tissue involves creating an ideal environment for fish cells to spontaneously form their natural composition of native fat and muscle. They grow as a three-dimensional tissue structure in the same manner they would grow in a living fish.

Cell-culturing fish the organoid way

“While cell cultivation largely focuses on a system of directed differentiation, where cells are signaled to differentiate into a specific cell type and are then combined on a scaffold, our system grows the aggregate of the various cells already at the initial stage of the process. The cells organize themselves autonomously into their innate, purposeful structure, just as in nature,” explains Nachman, a principal investigator at Tel Aviv University.

Yiftach Nachman, Roee Nir and Yaniv Elkouby
The Forsea team: Yiftach Nachman, Roee Nir and Yaniv Elkouby

Forsea claims that their cell-cultured eel will also yield the same nutritional profile as traditionally raised seafood, but without mercury or microplastic pollution

© Forsea Foods

The result is sustainably produced, succulent filets of cultured seafood that embody the same taste and textural traits as their farmed or fished counterparts. Unlike those counterparts, however, the resulting product is free from pollutants such as mercury, industrial chemicals and microplastics. Forsea claims that they will also yield the same nutritional profile as traditionally raised seafood. “This is a function of how you nourish the cells,” asserts Roee Nir, a biotechnologist and CEO and co-founder of Forsea.

“There are multiple benefits to the organoid method of cell cultivating fish,” Nir adds. “First, it is a highly scalable platform that bypasses the scaffolding stage and requires fewer bioreactors. This makes the process much simpler and more cost-effective. Additionally, it dramatically reduces the amount of costly growth factors needed.”

Nurtured by The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, the start-up was formed last October, with an initial injection of capital support from the Israeli Innovation Authority (IIA) and the Strauss-Group. The new venture brought together Nir, Nachman and Yaniv Elkouby, PhD, a senior researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and expert in cell developmental biology who dedicated numerous years studying piscine biology.

infographic on the eel market

© Forsea Foods

Not so much fish in the sea

“The demand for seafood is showing no signs of slowing down,” asserts Amir Zaidman, VP Business Development of The Kitchen Hub. “In fact, global demand is projected to almost double by 2050. But we are rapidly approaching the point where there will simply not be enough fish in the sea to sustain the global community. “Forsea’s innovative new cultivation platform has the potential to bring positive disruption to this paradigm by providing a clean, nutritious, delicious, and commercially viable alternative to wild-caught seafood while leaving the delicate ocean ecosystem completely untouched.”

While Forsea can cultivate practically any type of seafood, the company says it is currently focusing its efforts on cultivating the meat of freshwater eels. “Eels are a much sought-after delicacy, especially in East Asia. Yet overfishing in the past decades has rendered them an endangered species. The Japanese eel population alone has declined by 90 to 95 percent, which has driven prices to astronomical levels. Eel meat sells in Japan for up to $70 per kilogram,” reveals Nir.

“The market demand for eels is enormous,” adds Nir. “In 2000, the Japanese consumed 160,000 metric tons. But due to overfishing and rising prices, consumption has dwindled to just 30,000 metric tons. There is a huge gap between the supply and the demand for eels which traditional aquafarming cannot accommodate. Compounding this problem, Europe has barred the export of any type of eel product. “The market opportunity for cell-cultured eels is tremendous,” concludes Nir.

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