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Bay Area Biotech Startups Racing To Fill Our Plates With Lab-Created Meats, Seafood

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Whether it's a big juicy steak or a tasty shrimp cocktail, some Bay Area biotech startups are racing to fill your plates, but not from a feed lot or the vast blue ocean.

These scientists hope to bring you meat and seafood that has been created in their labs.

KPIX News saw the bounty of their works at the Folsom Street Foundry, where folks were clamoring to try a new kind of shrimp. Everyone we spoke to who sampled it loved it.

"It actually tasted good," said Gizmodo journalist Cheryl Eddy.

"It's actually quite delicious," said Eclectic Law Attorney Paul Spiegel.

"I thought the shrimp was fantastic," said Nathan Runkle who works for Mercy for Animals, an animal rights organization.

The event was Indie Bio Demo Day. It's a time where biotech startups strut their stuff in front of hipsters, investors, and journalists.

In this year's batch: 2 new food companies with a radical idea: to grow meat and seafood in a lab.

"We're talking about meat - real meat that's grown from meat cells - - whether they're from pigs, cows or chickens," said Doctor Uma Valeti.

The promise of lab engineered meats and seafood: No more feed lots; no more animal slaughter; no more overfishing; and no more fish farms.

First up: the shrimp.

"Animal free, vegan, kosher, gluten free but shrimp that tastes and feels just like shrimp," said Dominque Barnes.

Barnes is the co-founder and CEO of New Wave Foods.

Her team analyzed shrimp on a molecular level to understand how the crustacean's muscle forms and that creates its distinct texture.

When you eat shrimp, there are many different things that you experience - like a firmness, a brittleness, a juiciness," explained Barnes.

The team then engineered a new plant-based shrimp, using only certain plants and algae.

Barnes says it's just as nutritious, but far more sustainable than wild shrimp. Wild shrimp is the number one consumed seafood in the United States.

"Our oceans are quickly becoming depleted," said Barnes.

Sustainability is also on the minds of those behind Memphis Meats.

"We wanted to first make meat that was delicious, was better for us, and was better for the environment as well as the animals," said Doctor Valeti.

Valeti is a practicing cardiologist, and the CEO of the company.

He explained how his team takes a small sample of cells from a cow, a pig or a chicken, adds nutrients, and then cultivates the cells into meat. KPIX News saw a promotional video that showed how the team at Memphis Meats had a chef cook up an engineered meatball, which was then sampled by a young woman. She said it tasted like a meatball, and that it tasted good.

Valeti said once their technology evolves, their goal would grow as well.

"That we can actually grow a filet in 2 weeks or 3 weeks instead of growing the whole animal that may take 6 months to a year," Valeti explained.

The CEO said his meat will be free of antibiotics, and pathogens, and may even appeal to vegans and vegetarians.

"It could be for people who frankly became vegetarians or vegan because they did not want to support animal cruelty," said Valeti.

Both companies got a big financial boost from Indie Bio - an innovative Silicon Valley Accelerator.

"We're willing to take a risk on something that's completely new and unproven just because we think it will have a huge impact," said Professor Ron Shigeta. Shigeta is the Chief Science Officer for Indie Bio.

The New Wave Foods team already has a big order from Google for its cafeterias, and expects to ship shrimp to super markets as early as this year.

Memphis Meats hopes to bring its meat to market in a few years.

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