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Fighting for Sustainability: One Shrimp at a Time

Shiok Meats is a cell-based clean meat company founded in 2018. As the first of its kind, the founding team hopes to bring clean and healthy seafood and animal meats to the dinner table. Making use of technologies in cell biology, development of Shiok Meats is a stepping stone towards a sustainable future for the seafood industry. Dr Ling Ka Yi, Chief Scientific/Technology Officer and co-founder of Shiok Meats tells us more.

1. What were the motivations for starting Shiok Meats?

Both Sandhya and myself are stem cell biologists with a passion to use our knowledge and skill to work on research and products that can lead towards a sustainable future. With both our combined experience of more than 20 years in stem cell biology as well as Sandhya’s entrepreneurship experience with her previous start-ups. A sustainable food-tech product using stem cells was the perfect match for us.


2. How will the production of cell-based meats help in reducing the environmental impact of meat consumption?

Shiok Meats is working on producing crustacean meats (shrimp, prawn, crab and lobster) from stem cells instead of the whole animals; this process is sustainable, animal cruelty-free and health-friendly. Our “Shiok Shrimp” product is free of ocean and farming contaminants like mercury, pesticides, hormones and microplastics. In addition, “Shiok Shrimp” meat is nutritionally equivalent to traditionally farmed shrimp. There will no longer be need to clear mangroves, reducing environmental impact from loss of mangroves. Further, we are looking forward to building dedicated manufacturing plants to reduce the environmental impact from transporting shrimp across the globe.

Our vision is to disrupt the existing shrimp industry with our cell-based meat technology. Starting off with Asia and then expanding to other regions, we want to make sure there are no more shrimps reared and grown in horrible conditions in the future. Our mission is to one day provide healthy, clean, cruelty-free and sustainable seafood, specifically crustaceans, to the entire world.


3. Why was shrimp meat selected?

We wanted an Asian focus to our product. We also wanted to be unique working on something that has a high impact in Asia. For Asians, one of the most common seafood consumed is shrimp. However, the production of shrimp is very detrimental to the environment and our health.

Due to global warming, there is an increase in seafood diseases and wild catch also exerts significant pressure on the marine ecosystem globally. These animals and their meats are tainted with various issues – overuse of antibiotics, heavy metal and microplastic accumulation, clearing of mangroves to name a few. For some of the species like Kuruma Shrimp, mud crabs and certain lobsters, it takes years to get them to the size which we are consuming them at; which is much slower than the increasing rate of consumption. Wild-caught crustaceans are facing problems such as over-fishing, while aquaculture is encountering obstacles in their attempts to cultivate these finicky species to adult sizes. These practices reduce the sustainability of the seafood industry.


4. What challenges were faced during the R&D process of the first product?

We are still in R&D phase. The biggest challenge is the cost of the culture media (nutrients we feed the cells) and the scale up process.

5. How were these challenges overcome?

We are still in the midst of R&D to bring down the cost of culture media and scaling up on the process. These challenges are being targeted by in-house strategies and partnerships with other research entities.


6. How was the flavour profile for the shrimp dumplings achieved to be the same as the original product?

No changes/additives were added. Because the cell-based shrimp is actual shrimp, it contains the natural flavouring as does traditional farmed shrimp meat.


7. Moving forward, what plans does Shiok Meats have for product development?

We are looking to launch in 2022 in high end restaurants in Singapore. This will be a minced shrimp product. We are also working towards a 3D “c-shaped” shrimp product in the next few years as well. In addition, our team has begun working on lobster and crab as well.


8. Are there any partnerships in place for product launches in the future?

We do have several interested partners, but since we are sometime away from launch, there are no confirmed partnerships at the moment.

This interview was held in conjunction with EmTech Asia 2020 to be held virtually from 4 to 6 August 2020. Dr Ling Ka Yi, is one of the 20 outstanding innovators from the Asia Pacific region selected to present a three-minute elevator pitch at EmTech Asia. [APBN]

About the Interviewee

Dr Ling Ka Yi is the Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Shiok Meats Pte. Ltd., Singapore. Ka Yi is a developmental and stem cell biologist with over 10 years expertise in tracing and studying stem cells during development. Ka Yi received the prestigious A*STAR’s National Science Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked closely with stem cell and developmental biology experts like James Thomson, Davor Solter and Barbara Knowles. Following graduation, Ka Yi did her postdoc at IMCB, A*STAR in Singapore. She is an active science communicator since her days in Madison; and frequently takes part in science outreach and speaks at food sustainability and career management events. She also did a podcast called “Science Now” and “Life after PhD” with fellow colleague/scholar. Ka Yi is passionate about marrying her experience in biotech research and her love for food to produce sustainable food products. In August 2018, she co-founded a cell-based crustaceans startup called Shiok Meats, along with Dr Sandhya Sriram.