Adhithi Lakshmikanthan is a tissue engineer for Wild Type, a company developing cell-based seafood. Her technical talent is increasingly in demand as cell-based meat companies move into later stages of development.
Lakshmikanthan studied biomedical engineering at Rutgers University as a graduate student and worked in product and process development at the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation. Now she’s focusing on applying her background in bone scaffold design to the engineering of scaffolds for clean meat production.
She shared her perspective on why cell-based meat development is an exciting opportunity for creative exploration. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you initially learn about the alternative protein field?
I am a biomedical engineer focused on tissue engineering, and I didn’t know of the alternative protein field until I had my first talk with Justin, one of Wild Type’s two co-founders. He was looking for employees with backgrounds in tissue engineering, and only after speaking with him did I learn that tissue engineering could be used in this field.
Prior to your conversation with Justin, what kind of tissue engineering research were you focused on?
My thesis in grad school was on 3-D printing bone scaffolds, so it was more of a hard-tissue based approach, but I also have previous experience in wound care with allografts, which is a soft tissue-based experience. My background is completely in tissue engineering, and at Wild Type, I’m working to find ways to use scaffolds to grow cells in three-dimensional rather than just two-dimensional space. Currently, we are using traditional tissue engineering techniques, but I think in the future we might explore bioprinting, which is another field in which I have experience.
What appealed to you the most about working for Wild Type?
There is a multitude of reasons why I joined Wild Type. I’ve always wanted to be involved in a field that contributes to society, which is why I took up biomedical engineering — to use whatever skill set I could leverage toward bettering people’s lives. After talking to Justin, I went back and read up on the field, referencing the profile The Good Food Institute has on all the pros with respect to culturing meat. A lot of the reasons spoke to me, both the animal welfare considerations and the environmental concerns.
Another reason is that, as I mentioned, tissue engineering has been around for a while, but tissue engineering in the food space is something very new. It gives you a lot to play around with and, from an engineering perspective, it’s a gold mine because you can establish a lot of protocols and you can dive into the field as much as you want to without having to say, “Oh, this has been done before.” Another reason is that Justin and Aryé, the co-founders of Wild Type, are really nice people to work with.
How do you see the need for engineering talent in the clean meat field developing over time?
Right now, most companies are in the molecular and cell biology stage. Tissue engineers like myself are just beginning to join in this field. I think in the future, once the field is more established and proves that clean meat works, I think chemical engineers and automation specialists — people who know how to run the process from start to finish through just machines — will be essential. As production scales up, we will have an increasing need for a multidisciplinary approach.
This interview is part of GFI’s series Pioneers of the Future of Food. We profiled some of the trailblazing scientists and engineers building a sustainable food system. Explore the full series here.