You may have heard the ocean is running out of fish. Thankfully, Michael Selden and Brian Wyrwas, the biochemists behind San Francisco-based Finless Foods, have a plan to keep fish on the menu — and in the ocean.
The food of the future (and by future, we mean later this year) is sushi that’s plucked from a petri dish rather than from the sea.
Selden says to think of it like a brewery — a fish-filet kind of brewery.
The Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco provides Finless Foods with sample cells from living marine animals. Wyrwas then uses cutting-edge cell culture techniques to produce what will become the muscle and fat tissues that make finned fish so delicious.
But before you start picturing a fish cell pâté ...
Living things — from the yeast in your beer to disembodied cells in a petri dish — need proper nutrition to grow. Your favorite brew depends on the nutrients that feed the yeast. In the process of metabolizing sugar, yeast produces alcohol.
In a brewery, this nutrition comes in the form of wort, which is extracted from the mashed grains at the start of the fermentation process.
Similarly, to grow living fish cells, you need a specialized nutrition delivery system, or growth medium. Here's Wyrwas making their first batch.
As the fish cells grow in the medium, Selden and Wyrwas will shape the cells to look and feel like real fish meat. Because at a cellular level, it will be real fish meat!
The duo is growing bass, tilapia, cod and salmon, and they aim to focus on tuna and mahi mahi, since neither can be farmed efficiently.
But will it be enough to replace what we take from the sea? Humans have an insatiable appetite for seafood. From reef-bound parrotfish to the long-migrating bluefin tuna, we consume more than 100 million tons of fish per year.
Science tells us that’s an incomprehensibly large number. We literally can’t wrap our brains around it.
Right now, Finless Foods is still trying to give life to one tuna sandwich. Selden and Wyrwas acknowledge that the samples they hope to have by summer’s end are just the first tiny step into the future, but they’re designing their process for eventual mass consumption.
According to Selden, Finless Food is the next step in a logical progression. “Fishing was Fish 1.0. Aquaculture was Fish 2.0. We are Fish 3.0,” he says.
This is because “brewed” fish solves a lot of the problems associated with fishing and aquaculture. Finless Food will be more dependable and reliable than fishing, not to mention less expensive.
And when millions of people start pulling their protein from a petri dish instead of the sea, fish populations will have a chance to rebound.
Growing fish meat is also more energy-efficient than gas-powered fishing boats or farming fish, so it’s better for the planet. And Finless Foods will be free of antibiotics, mercury and other environmental contaminants, making it better for your health, too.
Although it’ll probably be a few years before you’ll find Finless Foods in your local supermarket, now you — and an ocean of fish — have something to look forward to!
In the meantime, you can follow them on Twitter @FinlessFoods!