India’s First Lab-Grown Fish Meat: A CMFRI Initiative

India is a country with a huge appetite for seafood, consuming around 5.3 million tonnes of fish and fish products annually. However, the demand for seafood is far exceeding the supply from wild fisheries, which are facing overexploitation, pollution, and climate change threats. Moreover, conventional aquaculture also poses challenges such as high water and land use, disease outbreaks, and environmental degradation.

To address these issues, India is set to join the global trend of developing lab-grown fish meat, also known as cultivated or cell-based fish meat. This is a novel technology that produces fish meat by isolating specific cells from the fish and growing them in a laboratory setting using animal component-free media. The final product will replicate the original flavour, texture, and nutritional qualities of the fish, without harming any animals or the environment.

In a first-of-its-kind initiative in India, the ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) has launched a project to develop lab-grown fish meat in collaboration with Neat Meatt Biotech, a start-up working towards developing cultivated meat. The project aims to make strides in the field of cultured marine fish meat and thereby reduce excessive pressure on wild resources.

In the initial phase, the institute will focus on developing cell-based meat of high-value marine species such as kingfish, pomfret, and seer fish. In line with this, CMFRI and Neat Meatt Biotech have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to launch this initiative in a public-private partnership mode.

According to the MoU, CMFRI will carry out research on early cell line development of high-value marine fish species. This involves isolating and cultivating fish cells for further research and development. Additionally, CMFRI will handle genetic, biochemical, and analytical work related to the project. The institute is equipped with a cell culture laboratory with basic facilities, providing a solid foundation for research in cellular biology.

Neat Meatt Biotech, with its expertise in cell culture technology, will lead the optimization of cell growth media, development of scaffolds or microcarriers for cell attachment, and scaling up production through bioreactors. They will also provide necessary consumables, manpower, and any additional equipment needed for the project.

“This project aims to accelerate development in this field, ensuring India is not left behind in this emerging industry,” said CMFRI Director A Gopalakrishnan. He said this public-private partnership marks a crucial step in bridging the gap between India and other nations like Singapore, Israel, and the US, who are already advancing cultured seafood research.

“Lab-grown fish offers immense potential for environmental and food security benefits, and this collaboration leverages CMFRI’s marine research expertise with Neat Meatt’s technological know-how in this field, paving the way for a sustainable and secure future for seafood production in India,” Gopalakrishnan said.

Co-founder and CEO of Neat Meatt Biotech Sandeep Sharma expressed confidence that the proof of concept of the project could be established within a couple of months. He said that cultivated fish meat could offer a viable alternative to conventional seafood production methods that are facing various challenges.

“We are excited to partner with CMFRI to develop lab-grown fish meat in India. We believe that this technology can revolutionize the way we produce and consume seafood, by providing a safe, healthy, and ethical option that does not compromise on taste or quality. We hope that this project will inspire more research and innovation in this field and create awareness among consumers about the benefits of cultivated meat,” Sharma said.

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