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24th August 2021  Editorial by: newprotein staff writer

SeaWith Cracked the Code of Low-Cost Non-FBS Growth Media and Scaffolding With Microalgae


South Korean cultivated meat start-up SeaWith has developed a way to produce scaffolding and non-FBS growth media at a much lower cost using microalgae. 

When they co-founded SeaWith in 2019, Joonho Keum's and Heejae Lee's idea was to produce low-iodine kelp. Soon enough, however, they realised they had the right technology and in-house talent to produce growth media and scaffolding for other cultivated meat start-ups, and also to develop their own cultivated steak.

Flash forward two years: SeaWith's ambition is now to present its first cultivated meat product to consumers by 2022 and accelerate commercialisation of cultivated meat with low-cost sustainable materials.

In this interview, Heejae Lee talks about SeaWith’s technology and future plans.

Q: How do you produce your low-iodine seaweed? What's the technology behind it?
Brown-algae seaweeds, commonly called kelps, are well-known for accumulating great amounts of iodine and then releasing it when damaged by oxidative stress. We use this principle to induce the algae to naturally lower their iodine content by releasing it in the atmosphere. This process was documented in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journal.

Q: SeaWith was founded just two years ago: was cultured meat always part of the plan? 
We started as a producer of low-iodine seaweed and then pivoted to cultured meat after a month. Because all of five co-founders majored in biology or bio-engineering, we wanted to apply our technology to algae to make an even bigger impact on the alternative protein market.

Q: Can your growth media and scaffolding be used for other types of meat too?
Yes. We are planning to test cell types for different animals, such as pig, chicken, and fish.

Q: Are you planning to sell your culture media and scaffolding to other companies too?
Supplying our culture media and scaffolding to other cultured meat companies is our main strategy. Our goal is to help cultured meat companies speed up time to commercialization of cultured meat by reducing production costs. Our scaffold and culture media is extremely cheap, so it could be an optimal base material for cultured meat.

Q: What type of cultivated meat product are you targeting?
Our first product will be beef steak. Our scaffold ‘ACe-gel’ can help the attachment of muscle cells and differentiation by alignment, and supply the nutrient, oxygen deep inside the tissues. We already developed >1cm-thick “cuts” of meat and held a tasting event this past May.

Q: How receptive are South Korean consumers to cultivated meat?
They’re actually quite open to it. I was surprised because I worried that people might see microalgae as an ‘unnatural’ material for cultivated meat. As it turned out, however, seaweed is recognized as safe and healthy. Korean consumers set a high value on price because Korean beef (called “Hanwoo”) is much more expensive than in the US or other countries. Taste and safety are also important. 

Q: Will cultivated meat be approved soon in South Korea?
Korea’s FDA (The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety) is still working to create guidelines for cultivated meat. A draft will be released in November this year. We aim to register our pilot batch scale product as food in the last quarter of 2023. During the process, our materials will be ready as a product.

To learn more about SeaWith: seawith.net

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Date Published: 24th August 2021

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