This Startup Just Created An Animal-Free Protein For More Humane Products

Food & Drink

Provenance Bio, which makes animal-free proteins that can be used in products ranging from fashion to food, announced Tuesday that it has successfully produced gelatin through its development of a proprietary protein expression platform to create biomimetic proteins that are capable of beating animal agriculture prices.

Based in San Francisco and founded in 2020, Provenance Bio aims to develop synthetic proteins that have the features of animal products without the need to cause harm to animals. In addition to the gelatin, it’s also developed a complex form of collagen it plans to offer to customers.

Michalyn Andrews, Provenance Bio CEO and Co-founder, shared that the company started with a goal to create biomimetic leather, but as time went on, she realized her company “needed to get [its] hands on a lot of collagen.” However, it didn’t have the platforms to build and procure these collagens in large quantities to truly disrupt the markets. So it turned to “cell-free systems” (which seek to remove the limits of cells in protein synthesis) and industrial biotechnology to build this new technology.

Gelatin proteins are useful for a number of products, including capsules for vitamins and therapeutics and tissue engineering. Collagen might be more versatile still, with uses ranging from creating synthetic leather to altnerative meats. To best take advantage of potential opportunities, Provenance is spinning out several different companies that will each deal with different market verticals, such as fabrics and food. 

“We took the best of all of the worlds and what we’ve built out is a technology that we call micro-compartmentalization,” Andrews expresses. “We essentially engineer our cells to be targeted factories for our products, so we’d like to call it a next step for synthetic biology. And what we’re doing is we’re engineering factories inside of our cells.”

Currently, synthetic collagen products can cost “many millions of dollars” per kilogram. “We’re bringing that price point down to under $15 a kilogram,” Andrew says. Provenance Bio is partnering with a variety of companies “that have large collagen supply chains to disrupt and ship out their supply chains” as well as leather and gelatin with discussions currently underway with more companies.

The benefits of the protein platform is that it addresses issues with inconsistent quality products with contaminants. “We offer a completely pure product that we can also tailor,” Andrews says. “We can tailor it so that we don’t have batch-to-batch inefficiencies that gelatin supply chains currently have.” With the technology Provenance has developed with its own microcompartments, the company can perform “very unique chemistry” in controlled environments.

Currently, the company claims that the carbon footprint of its production is 50 times smaller than producing the same products via livestock, and Andrew says it’s on track to be 500 times more efficient by the end of the year. 

“We had been working on making gelatin in the lab for quite a while, so it was very exciting when we saw that we were able to make gelatins from our full length type one collagens. We’re all very excited about that,” Andrew expressed. “When you can break through these barriers, what the impact will be for sustainability is probably the most exciting thing.”

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