May 31, 2024 - Business

Jeff Bezos-backed fund gives N.C. State $30M to research lab-grown proteins

The belltower on N.C. State's Campus

The Memorial Belltower on N.C. State University's campus. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

The Bezos Earth Fund, a foundation backed with $10 billion from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is pouring $30 million into N.C. State University to study alternative proteins, the university announced Friday.

Why it matters: The Bezos Center for Sustainable Protein, to be housed on N.C. State's Centennial Campus, is part of a larger push by the foundation to promote alternative proteins to help sustainably feed the world's growing population.

State of play: Food production, especially raising livestock, is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, Bezos Earth Fund CEO Andrew Steer told Axios at Friday's event. The goal of the center is to promote plant- and cell-based proteins (such as lab-grown meat) as a sustainable way to supplement global food production.

  • In addition to N.C. State, which went through a year-long process to win the grant, the fund is also planning to work with universities in Europe and Asia.

Driving the news: The $30 million commitment to N.C. State will be spread over five years and will fund research into plant-based proteins, fermentation methods that produce protein nutrients and cultivated meat grown from animal cells.

  • The research and the center itself will work with industry partners — potentially making the Raleigh area more attractive to alternative protein companies looking to relocate.
  • The goal, in part, is to fund expensive basic science that is a barrier for many startups entering the field, Andy Jarvis, director of future of food for the Earth Fund, told Axios.

Between the lines: The Bezos Earth Fund specifically noted that in addition to top-class scientists, it chose N.C. State from among 40 universities because of its long track record of partnering with private companies.

  • Several local food startups, including Wild Earth and Sable Fermentation, as well as national firms like Cargill, already plan to work with the center and attended the announcement.
  • Rohan Shirwaiker, an N.C. State professor who will help lead the center, said the money will fund research and more positions for scientists and students to work on the topic and with companies.

What they're saying: "The ultimate aim for all of these things is: How do we get the price down? How do we get the products tastier, the texture right and the nutrition and the health benefits maximized?" Jarvis said in an interview.

  • This center will "be incubating some of the best ideas and technologies that get developed," he added. And "they can be commercialized. They can be incubated into spin-offs and new companies that will that will build off of that" research.

Steer noted that the Earth Fund's goals are not to make everyone eat plant- or cell-based meat but to provide more choice and education to consumers.

  • "We're not on a crusade here. We're about choices, which will enable food security for everybody," Steer said.
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