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Pitches from the ‘Pork Tank’: generating solutions in cellular agriculture

January 15, 2024

Imagine a future of eating traditionally animal-sourced foods, such as beef, chicken, and fish, where the meat was cultivated from cells rather than whole animals. That’s a goal of cellular agriculture, a field that aims to address the demand for healthy animal protein while supporting a more secure, sustainable, and equitable food system compared to one based on traditional whole animal production.  

However, the promise of cellular agriculture doesn’t come without its obstacles, and resolving some of those challenges was the assignment this past semester for students in Cellular Agriculture & Biofabricated Foods. BME173, as it's known, is offered by the Biomedical Engineering department at the School of Engineering and for their final project, students in the course participate in 'Pork Tank'.

Using a format modeled on the popular ABC show Shark Tank, BME173 students present their ideas for a startup company with a mission to help resolve one or more of cellular agriculture’s most pressing issues. Each of their presentations is undergirded by a deep dive into related research, competitors in the field, product marketing strategies, as well as a proposed timeline for the research and development phase, gaining FDA approval, and scaling up of production to get the product onto the market.

During Pork Tank, guest judges Matt McNulty, Associate Director of the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture (TUCCA), Andrew Stout, entrepreneur-in-residence and Director of Science in Tufts’ Cellular Agriculture Commercialization Lab, and Sophie Letcher and Michael Saad, both fourth-year biomedical engineering Ph.D. students in the Kaplan Lab, act as investors. The investors put the pseudo-money 'Beef Bux' in support of their favorite student startups. The students whose startup receives the most Beef Bux gets extra credit for the course.

Over two evenings of pitches in December, 10 groups of students presented their proposals and took questions from the investors and their classmates. The winners of Pork Tank included Media Cycle Ventures by Isabella Baquerizo, E25, Faith Moran, E25, Chloe Rummler, E25, and Mason Villegas, A25, and The Meating Place by University College student Varad Chavan, Jonah Fein, A25, Ivy Nieves, E24, and Certificate in Cellular Agriculture student Thomas Siebertz.

As a keystone course of the cellular agriculture academic program at Tufts, BME173 is the first in a two-part, year-long introductory course series offered by the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture (TUCCA). Both courses are required for the new graduate certificate in cellular agriculture and for the first-of-its-kind minor in cellular agriculture. These academic offerings are designed to bridge the gap between academia and industry and meet the field’s need for highly trained individuals familiar with food science, biotechnology, tissue engineering, synthetic biology, and biomedical engineering.

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