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Pearlita hopes to produce a lab-grown alternative to oysters like these.
Pearlita hopes to produce a lab-grown alternative to oysters like these.

A US start-up, Pearlita, has announced the opening of a research laboratory to grow oysters from cellular agriculture.

Although several companies are focused on cell cultivation of finfish and crustaceans, Pearlita is the first to work with oysters, which are threatened by overharvesting in the wild, vegan business magazine Vegconomist website reports.

The production process would take place in a controlled and sterile environment, eliminating the risk of contamination from pollution and heavy metals, which Vegconomist says remains a top safety concern for oyster consumption.

How cellular agriculture works

Cell cultivation involves taking cells from a living animal and growing them in bioreactors at high densities and volumes, according to the US-based Good Food Institute, which promotes alternative proteins.

Similar to what happens inside an animal’s body, the cells are fed an oxygen-rich cell culture medium made up of basic nutrients such as amino acids, glucose, vitamins, and inorganic salts, and supplemented with proteins and other growth factors.

Changes in the medium composition, often in tandem with cues from a scaffolding structure, trigger immature cells to differentiate into the skeletal muscle, fat, and connective tissues that make up meat. The differentiated cells are then harvested, prepared, and packaged into final products.

Reducing the cost of the media used to feed the cells, developing better scaffolding for different types of cultivated meats, and government approval for sale will be key to cultivated meat’s success or failure. Singapore became the first country to approve the sale of cultivated meat in 2020.

Research hub

Pearlita says the company chose Raleigh, North Carolina as its home because of the city’s close proximity to the Triangle Research Park, a hub for biotechnology and life science research. North Carolina also has a long-established seafood industry and seafood traditions, from which Pearlita hopes to gain critical insights and knowledge.

“It only makes sense to base Pearlita Foods out of Raleigh. Not only is North Carolina the second largest estuarine system in the country, it is also the fastest-growing biotech and future of food hub. So, we will be close to the ecosystems where oysters thrive and amongst other entrepreneurs – both which we believe will accelerate our growth,” co-founder and chief executive Nikita Michelsen said.

A difficult task

The company says that cultivating tissue from oysters is a difficult task, due to the complexity of oysters’ tissue structures, but is confident of eventual success.

“Although this is a huge challenge, we plan to build a passionate team with the unique culturing expertise in this niche field to produce this novel, sustainable seafood. With support from investors, I have no doubt we will accomplish great things” said co-founder Joey Peters.