We produce meat,
What are cells?
All living things are made from cells. They’re the building blocks of life: so small that they can only be seen under a microscope.
They have amazing powers to grow and change, and every pig is made of about 70 billion of them – each with the potential to feed the planet.
How do we grow them?
To make our meat, we take a small sample of cells from an animal, and nurture them carefully until they multiply – mimicking how they grow in nature.
Before long, we have enough to start making something tasty.
What do we do with all these cells?
We teach these cells to become the parts of meat that we want to eat.
They can become muscle (protein to help your body grow healthily) and fat (the tasty, sizzly part), or any of the other components that make up a traditional cut of meat.
The result? Clean plates.
Our food team then brings those cells together to create mouthwatering products like bacon and pork belly.
We find the perfect balance of freshness, flavour, colour, and texture — a recipe for clean plates and full bellies.
Plenty to sink your teeth into.
“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.”
We produce meat,
using cellular agriculture
Every cell in an organism contains all of the information to produce the plant or animal that it comes from; this information is written in its DNA.
At Uncommon, we use the information inside cells to produce our delicious cuts of meat – a process called cellular agriculture. Different types of cells perform different roles in the body: muscle cells behave differently to fat cells, which in turn are different from bone and skin cells. Whilst they all contain the same DNA, these cells don’t use all of that information in the same way – they “read” different parts of their genome, like pages of a script telling them how to perform their specialised roles.
We obtain sample cells — specifically stem cells — from a traditionally farmed animal, and then we nurture them to reach a state where they can infinitely grow using a process called reprogramming. We encourage these stem cells to divide; a process by which one cell splits into two new cells. These new cells may then divide in turn. Stem cells are especially good at this, and they benefit from many natural growth advantages when compared to adult cells. By repeating this cycle of growth and division, we can produce countless numbers of stem cells – enough to feed the world!
To grow our cells, it is essential that we provide them with the same environment they would receive as part of an animal – warmth, nutrients, water, and oxygen. We accomplish this inside large vessels called bioreactors. These vessels measure and respond to the cell population’s needs minute by minute – faster and more accurately than a person could, allowing them to stay healthy, grow, and divide to their fullest potential.
Uncommon meat has the potential to be the same as traditional meat right down to the molecular level.
The stem cells we use are special as whether we started with a skin cell, blood, or any other cells, these cells then have the unique ability to turn into any other kind of cell. They do this through a process known as differentiation. By reading the right “pages” of their DNA code, they can follow naturally evolved biochemical pathways to differentiate into the right type of cells to form new tissues. This allows organisms to grow, develop, and heal.
“Art is something absolute, something positive, which gives power just as food gives power. While creative science is a mental food, art is the satisfaction of the soul.”
We produce meat, using pluripotent stem cells
Uncommon meat has the potential to be the same as traditional meat right down to the molecular level.
Dr. Ruth Faram
Organisms consist of different tissues, which in turn consist of complex structures made up of specific cells. Every single cell in the organism contains the same genetic code – in the form of DNA – but each cell uses that genetic code in a different way depending on their function and specialisation. The DNA itself codes for different “genes” – which in turn code for different proteins. Depending on the requirements of a cell, the gene is turned on or off, which means the protein is produced (or not) by that cell. Different cells require different proteins to fulfil their biological role. For example: liver cells will have a very different protein profile to muscle cells, based on their function, and stem cells will have a very different protein expression to very mature cell types as well. (Pontén et al., 2009)
At Uncommon, we create our cultivated meat products in the most physiologically representative way possible.
We isolate a small sample of cells (”somatic cells”) from an animal that is suitable for entering the human food chain. We then use cutting-edge technologies to convert these isolated cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – a process known as “reprogramming”, a technology which won Yamanaka et al the Nobel prize in 2012. (The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012, z.d.)
At Uncommon, we have mastered the art of reprogramming without the need for genome engineering. All of our reprogramming technologies are “non-integrative” which means that the genetic code of the cells remains untouched. This was important for us to ensure that our product is not categorised as genetically modified. At every stage of our process, we conform to food standard regulations and maintain the highest standards: we have based our rigorous internal quality standards on those. (Novel foods authorisation guidance, z.d.)
For more reading on non-integrative technology: Non-integrating Methods to Produce Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells for Regenerative Medicine: An Overview
Following the reprogramming process, the iPSCs have the capacity to grow indefinitely. They are “pluripotent” which means that they can grow prolifically, and also have the capacity to turn into literally any other cell type. (De Los Angeles et al., 2015)
To assess this during our entire process, we implement thorough characterisation and analyses for our cells, so that we can assess their growth profiles and how they turn into other cell types (a process known as differentiation, or cell programming). At Uncommon, we first grow the iPSCs in huge numbers – both so that we can repeatedly grown enough ‘biomass’ to create the meat, and also for cell storage (cryopreservation – so we have enough banks of cells available for years to come), prior to differentiation processes.
At every stage of our process, we conform to food standard regulations and maintain the highest standards
In order for any cell populations to grow happily, they must be supported by a suitable growth medium. This is a nutritional ‘broth’ which mimics the biological conditions that nourish all physiological organisms, and it contains all of the salts, proteins, amino acids, lipids/fats, and sugars that all cells need in order to thrive and multiply. The culture conditions maximise gas transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide – identical conditions to when an organism breathes.
At Uncommon, we have developed our own growth media formulations, both ensuring food safety and to meet the price points that consumers expect. Our growth media supports every aspect of the cell’s development – from growth to differentiation, in a scalable process. We use complex statistics to inform our formulations, particularly during intensive bioprocesses.
For more reading on cultivated meat cell culture: Deep dive: Cultivated meat cell culture media
At Uncommon, our bio-creators push the boundaries of bioprocessing. To date, iPSCs have not been cultured in bioreactor vessels of the size required to create tonnes of cultivated meat: therefore we are one of the first companies to ask some very technologically challenging question – and from this, we coined bio-creators.
iPSCs differ to other traditional cell types used in biopharma – they require very tightly controlled conditions to remain pluripotent and multiply. At Uncommon, our care and precision is reflected in how we grow and differentiate our iPSCs; the controlled and defined nature of our bioprocess systems epitomises the company. Our bioreactor vessels constantly measure temperature, pH, metabolite levels, and cell concentrations, responding to the cells’ changing needs as they grow and immediately compensating for any deviations from the ideal environment. This level of control means that we can predict whether a batch of our cells will pass our strict quality and release criteria even before that process is completed. Unlike 2D cell culture methods that are traditionally used for iPSCs, production of cultivated meat from our 3D bioreactors can be scaled up to meet the quantity and price to feed consumers around the world. (Swartz, 2021)
Following growth of our iPSCs and to create the tissues that make up the final cut of meat, we then feed the cells with a different optimised mixture of nutrients and molecules, which guide them along different biochemical pathways. Currently, we guide them to become adipocytes (the cells that make up fat tissue) and myocytes (which make up muscle tissue). Depending on which type of tissue we are producing, we use several of our patented RNA technologies to promote the production of the specific proteins associated with these differentiated cell types, a process known as “forward programming”. The RNA is a code for the DNA: the DNA then codes the gene, and the gene codes a protein: at Uncommon we are utilising these natural building blocks of cells, just as they would be utilised in the animal. By using this process, we are able to produce muscle and fat tissue – the key components of any cut of meat. To ensure accuracy and consistency of our methods, we analyse gene expression & protein expression, and conduct nutritional analyses to ensure that each batch conforms to food safety regulations and to our own strict standards, before releasing it to our food teams.
Conventional meat goes through a rigorous process before it reaches the dinner plate. This involves a complex value chain of shipping, processing, and packaging to achieve the best performance regarding texture, flavour, and nutritional value.
The same happens with our pork belly and bacon: we need to transform it so we can get the best performance out of it. The first step towards this transformation requires a matrix that can hold together muscle and fat cell material. We formulate our belly and bacon with the optimal texturisers to generate this matrix. All these texturising agents come from natural sources.
Texturisers like starches and fibres, enhance the product chew, compression, storage and cooking stability, and will add cohesiveness to the finished product. One of their most important functions is to improve the water holding capability of our cell proteins and to improve the oil-holding capability of our cell fatty acids.
Structured vegetable proteins and pulse protein isolates are also added to enhance shape and chew, as well as adding extra nutritional value, thereby helping to increase the PCDAAs (Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score) of our bacon and belly and match the nutritional value of conventional products.
Creating our bacon and belly also involves adding flavours, colours, salt and spices to our cell material. Flavours come from different specific culinary blends that will add aroma, juiciness, and succulence, creating an optimised sensory experience. Flavour can be added as an oil-based or water-based ingredient, depending on the desired final product output.
Once we have our ingredient matrix to add to our fat and muscle cells, we need to come up with a functional way of bringing them together. Currently there are many scalable methods which can allows us to do so. One of the most common ones is high moisture extrusion, in which we put our product through high heat and pressure to shape and compress our matrix together. This process allows us to get clear layers between fat and muscle.
Other methods we are exploring that could become scalable in the future involve 3D printing and shear cell technology. These methods have the potential to further improve the final product functionality and yield compared to traditional methods like high moisture extrusion.
Creating either conventional or Uncommon pork belly and bacon, involves a series of complex processing steps. We take care and pride in our whole process, from harvesting our cells and choosing our formulating ingredients to processing and storing our products to get them to your plate.
“The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly.”