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How Moolec is moo-ving the needle on alternative protein by gene editing plants to be… more meaty

moolec worker using a pipette
Image Credit: Moolec

“Plant-based food products would not be filling enough.”

“I wouldn't get enough energy or strength from plant-based food products.”

“Plant-based food products would not be tasty enough.”

Those are some of the statements collected by a recent study on why people in the European Union are apprehensive about going plant-based. Published last year, the study looked at people in 10 different EU countries to understand exactly why the average consumer isn’t shifting to a plant-based diet, and aside from simply wanting to eat meat, the biggest barrier, the researchers found, were the beliefs that they just wouldn’t be tasty enough or filling/enjoyable enough.

That’s why Moolec, a startup based out of Luxembourg is bioengineering plants from when they are seeds to, in short, be more meaty.

Yellow peas and soybeans are common ingredients in plant-based products, however, according to the survey, for meat eaters, these products don’t always live up to the precedent set by their animal-based counterparts. So Moolec, which spun out from Bioceres Crop Solutions, is a company most notable for its drought-tolerant soy and wheat, is changing these ingredients from the molecular level.

Since launching in 2021, Moolec is most known for its molecular farming capabilities. In fact, earlier this summer, it became the first molecular farming startup to be listed on Nasdaq, making it a pioneer in seed crops, that while animal-free, are comparable nutritionally and economically to its counterparts, creating alternatives for consumer-accepted meat and dairy products.

The goal is to redefine how we produce animal-based food and to create carbon-neutral agriculture.

farming field
Image Credit: Moolec

This is how Moolec’s meaty seeds work. Moolec bioengineers the seeds to express bovine and porcine proteins in a way the startup claims to improve the taste, texture, nutrition, flavor, and color of meat alternatives. In June, the company released its “piggy sooy,” a platform that, allows soybeans to reach what the company calls a “significant” pork protein level. The crops are then grown and scaled using traditional farming methods.

Moolec isn’t the only one leveraging soybeans to this level for traditionally animal-based products. FootPrint Coalition portfolio company Nobell Foods works with independent farmers throughout the midwest to raise soybean plants that the company has modified to grow the dairy protein, casein, which gives cheese its cheesiness, making Nobell’s product the world’s first plant-grown cheese.

Another company, Miruku, is also using seeds to make dairy. Instead of soybeans, the New Zealand-based startup is using oilbeans to provide taste, texture, nutrition, and formulation flexibility, which the company says plants are currently not delivering on. Last year, the company emerged from stealth mode, raising $2.4 million in seed funding. The company is currently employing its molecular farming process to deliver on dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

When it comes to what the Moolec plans to sell, Gastón Paladini, the company’s CEO, told the publication AgFunder, “It makes sense for us to produce hybrid ingredients between plant and animal proteins, together. Affordability and functionality are our top priorities,” he said, adding that “Moolec is targeting the whole processing meat market, not just the alternative protein market.”

That’s why, as announced Tuesday, the ag biotech startup received $30 million in cash and in-kind contributions from strategic investors via convertible notes from Grupo Insud. This means that in addition to $6 million funding, $21 million in “in-kind contributions” will also be made to Moolec for the strike price of $6/share, such as “access to Insud’s industrial capabilities,” as the press release states.

Moolec CEO Gastón Paladini holding proteins
Moolec CEO Gastón Paladini // Image Credit: Moolec

Tuesday’s news follows a deal with Bioceres Crop Solutions that secured a supply of approximately 15,000 tons of soybeans, which will be paid for through the issuance of a convertible note.

“This capital raise strengthens our financial position and allows us to accelerate our business model in a challenging financial market,” José López Lecube the CFO of Moolec Science said in a statement.

“The notes provide healthy optionality for Moolec to convert into common shares or cash in three years’ time. Cash proceeds will be used to continue funding key R&D projects and in-kind contributions will secure the needed working capital to ramp up our commercialization plan and product development initiatives.”

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