Patent Analysis: Super Meat
Cultured meat-containing hybrid food (2017, Patent Pending)
This patent application covers the use of cultured cells as an ingredient in plant-based meat. The goal is to make the plant-based meat taste, feel, and look more like animal meat. The cultured cells make up a small portion of the blended product–at most 30% by weight.
The idea of a blended product has been discussed in the industry as a stepping stone to full cell-based meat. Since plant-based materials cost significantly less than cultured cells, companies can sell blended products before the price of cell-based meat becomes low enough to compete against animal meat. The major questions around this strategy are 1) whether cultured cells actually improve the quality of plant-based meats, and 2) whether consumers would want to eat these products.
The patent application is very broad, and if granted would be relevant to any company pursuing a blended product strategy. Super Meat only filed it recently, so we won’t know what’s actually protected for a couple years while the application is being reviewed.
One part of the patent application I found fascinating was a study that Super Meat ran where they measured the quality of various blended products. They created sausage, ground beef, and schnitzel with varying amounts of cultured hepatocytes, then measured how much people liked each product on a 9-point scale. Small amounts of cultured hepatocytes seemed to substantially increase the product’s quality. Most interesting was the sausage–hepatocytes noticeably increased the sausage’s quality until it was 13% cultured cells, but further cells after that made no difference.
Take the results of the study with a grain of salt. Super Meat doesn’t disclose the methods, and the sample size is only 25. However, if it’s true that small amounts of cells can so greatly improve the quality of plant-based meats, then it might make sense for companies to try to commercialize blended products.
One explanation that Super Meat gives for why cultured cells enhance the taste of plant-based meat is because the cells add heme, the same molecule that sets apart the Impossible Burger from other plant-based burgers.
I want to bring attention to some quotes that I found interesting, but that were only peripherally related to the content of the patent application. They could be directions for further research.
"Matsumoto et al.  reported that mature adipocytes can be dedifferentiated in vitro into a multipotent preadipocyte cell line known as dedifferentiated fat (DFAT) cells, reversion [sic] of a terminally differentiated cell into a multipotent cell type. These DFAT cells are capable of being transdifferentiated into skeletal myocytes  and are an attractive alternative to the use of stem cells.”
"Benjaminson et al.  succeeded in using a serum-free medium made from maitake mushroom extract that achieved higher rates of growth than fetal bovine serum and recently it has been shown that lipids such as sphingosine-1-phosphate can replace serum in supporting the growth and differentiation of embryonic tissue explants.”
I’ll be reviewing further cell-based meat patents as they become public. The future reviews will be different than the original patent landscape analysis in that I’ll be focusing less on claims and more on technical details. My readers were primarily interested in learning about the technology companies are developing, and not what the patents legally protect. Plus, things got thorny talking about claims given that some of the patents were pending, or had varying status in different countries. Not to mention it’s not my area of expertise. If you’re concerned about infringing on a patent, talk to an IP lawyer.
Thanks to Alene Anello for feedback on drafts of this piece.
 J Cell Physiol. 2007;215(l):210-222.
 Kazama et al. Mature adipocyte-derived dedifferentiated fat cells can transdifferentiate into skeletalmyocytes in vitro. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008;377(3):780-785. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2008.10.046
 In vitro edible muscle protein production system (MPPS): Stage 1, fish. Acta Astronaut. 2002;51(12):879-889. doi: 10.1016/S0094-5765(02)00033-4