Test-tube fish are swimming into the future

 
Brian Wyrwas (left) and Mike Selden, co-founders of the startup Finless Foods, are awaiting the arrival of edible fillets in their San Francisco lab. Photo by San Francisco Chronicle.

Brian Wyrwas (left) and Mike Selden, co-founders of the startup Finless Foods, are awaiting the arrival of edible fillets in their San Francisco lab. Photo by San Francisco Chronicle.

By now, you’ve probably heard mention of lab-grown food startups like Memphis Meats and Modern Meadow, or more likely, those companies that have already come to market––Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods. You may have even passed by one of their food trucks on your way to work or cooked Beast Burgers at a recent potluck.

There’s another startup that’s sliding just under the radar. At Finless Foods, young founding biologists Brian Wyrwas and Mike Selden are pioneering research on a new protein altogether, the kind you might find in sushi rolls and fish fries as early as 2019.

“We want to recapitulate every single thing on a dinner plate,” says Wyrwas, “The sound, sizzle, smell and consistency of a fish fillet.”

How will they do it? By culturing stem cells from living or recently dead marine animals in a brewery-like environment that allows the cells to proliferate and eventually become muscle mass.

Unlike some of their meaty competitors, Finless Foods isn't starting from scratch. In fact, they already have a number of advantages. For one thing, their production costs are much lower than say, culturing ground beef. “Once they hit on the right cells to culture and the way to brew them,” journalist Corby Kummer points out, it’s only a matter of time before those jobs get outsourced and production becomes possible on a much larger scale.

For another, they’ve found a secret ally in Japan’s age-old surumi industry. In conjunction with regenerative cell technology, Selden and Wyrwas plan to use surumi techniques to make sure the fish is in fact appealing to consumers, or better yet, desired because it’s actually tasty.

Though they make it seem simple, what Selden and Wyrwas hope to accomplish in the lab is no small undertaking. In Kummer’s words: “It’s one thing to replicate a cell in a test tube. It’s another thing to grow that cell by the millions and find a way to connect the micro-thin cell layers to cells grown to mimic muscle, cartilage, bone, and skin.”

For the time being, they can forget about the cartilage, bone and skin though. If they do manage to pull off the rest, Wyrwas and Selden will help to combat problems of overfishing, heavy-metal pollution, and exploitive aquaculture from the top down.

Takeaway: When it comes to navigating the ever-changing oceans on our planet and encouraging citizens to make better consumptive choices, thankfully, Finless Foods isn’t alone.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program makes finding sustainable seafood easier than ever before. Download the app for their latest seafood recommendations, and opportunities to share your discoveries with friends.

The path to a healthier planet begins with informed decision-making. Finless Foods is aiming high. How about you?

Read More: The Atlantic’s “The Advantages of Test-Tube Tuna”