Impossible Foods doubles research effort to ‘help eliminate animal agriculture’


US plant-based meat innovator Impossible Foods says it is doubling the size research team as part of its mission to “help eliminate animal agriculture”.

The company is also launching an ‘Impossible Investigator’ project, to “woo the world’s best scientists to work on the most important scientific problem Earth has ever faced”. An inaugural intake of 10 Impossible Investigators is planned, while there will be 50 immediate openings for scientists, engineers and other R&D professionals to join existing projects.

Impossible Foods has raised approximately $1.5 billion since its founding in 2011, including $700 million in two rounds this year, which it will use to fund the expansion of its technology platform and R&D team. Over the next six to 12 months, R&D will receive the largest percent increase in investment of any area in the company.

“Scientists want to solve the world’s biggest challenges. And the greatest problem we face today is our reliance on animal agriculture — the most destructive technology on Earth,” said Impossible Foods’ CEO and Founder Patrick O. Brown. “The Impossible Investigator programme is an opportunity for scientists and engineers in or on the threshold of an academic career to choose another path with the biggest positive impact on humanity and our planet: using science to eliminate the most urgent existential threat we face.”

“Scientists want to solve the world’s biggest challenges. And the greatest problem we face today is our reliance on animal agriculture — the most destructive technology on Earth”

Brown, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Stanford University and a former Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, left his job leading an award-winning Stanford biochemistry lab to start Impossible Foods in 2011. 

Impossible Foods makes meat from plants with, it says, a much smaller environmental footprint than meat from animals. An ambitious innovator in the fast-developing plant-based food industry, it has more 250 patents and patents pending. Its intellectual property includes methods to decode and reverse-engineer the molecular foundations and entire sensory experience of animal-derived meat, including how it tastes, cooks, sizzles and smells — and how to recreate the experience without animals.

The company has attracted criticism from some parts of the natural food industry and anti-GM campaigners over the use of what it calls its “magic ingredient” – heme. Heme, a molecule that is naturally abundant in meat, is partly what give meat its flavour and overall sensory experience. The plant-based heme used by Impossible Foods is made via fermentation of genetically engineered yeast, which the company is says has been safety-verified by America’s top food-safety experts and peer-reviewed academic journals. In an article on Medium, linked from them company’s own, Dr Michael Eisen, an adviser to Impossible Foods, writes “…as much as human history is the history of agriculture, it’s also the history of genetic modification of plants, animals and microbes — which enabled humanity to overcome the myriad obstacles they faced over the millennia.”

The company says the heme in the Impossible Burger is identical to the essential heme humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat. It says the producing the Impossible Burger uses about 87% less water, generates about 89% less greenhouse gases and requires around 96% less land than conventional ground beef from cows. For its efforts toward making the global food system sustainable, Impossible Foods won the 2019 United Nations Global Climate Action Award.