Lab-grown seafood is getting ready to hit the market. Could it save our oceans?

High-tech meat alternatives are grabbing a lot of headlines these days. Last month, the Impossible Burger marked a meatless milestone with its debut as a Burger King Whopper, while plant-based innovator Beyond Meat became a game-changer by taking its company shares public. Meanwhile, Lou Cooperhouse was in a San Diego office park quietly forging plans to disrupt another more fragmented and opaque sector of the food industry: seafood.

His company, BlueNalu (a play on a Hawaiian term that means both ocean waves and mindfulness), is racing to bring to market what’s known as cell-based seafood – that is, seafood grown from cells in a lab, not harvested from the oceans. But compared to Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, BlueNalu is not creating a plant-based seafood alternative. Instead, Cooperhouse and his team are extracting a needle biopsy’s worth of muscle cells from a single fish, such as a Patagonian toothfish, orange roughy, and mahi-mahi. Those cells are then carefully cultivated and fed a proprietary custom blend of liquid vitamins, amino acids, and sugars. Eventually, the cells will grow into broadsheets of whole muscle tissue that can be cut into filets and sold fresh, frozen or packaged into other types of seafood entrees. But unlike today’s wild-caught or farmed fish options, BlueNalu’s version of seafood will have no head, no tail, no bones, no blood.

It’s finfish, just without the swimming and breathing part. It’s seafood without the sea. The idea of this will take some getting used to, but it helps save our oceans from reckless fishing, then it’s worth exploring.

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