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Israeli start-up produces plant-based ingredients for food industry

Israeli start-up Pigmentum is producing biomolecules for the food industry in transgenic plants. Co-founder Tal Lutzky explains how the technology works, which hurdles stand in the way of commercialization, and whether consumers are willing to drink ‘lettuce milk.’

The trend for plant-based ingredients in food and beverage is on the rise. Swapping out synthetic compounds – such as colorants and aromas – for their ‘natural’ counterparts, however, means increasing reliance on traditional agricultural systems. According to entrepreneur Tal Lutzky, therein lies a ‘major’ problem: whether sourced from animals or plants, the bioproduction of compounds is unsustainable and produces ‘very limited’ yields.

Together with co-founder Amir Tiroler, Lutzky is taking a more sustainable approach to the production of biomolecules, he explained. The Israeli ag-tech company is leveraging transgenic modification and molecular farming techniques to produce high yields of natural compounds for the food industry. Having completed agronomy studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the guidance of Professor Alexander Vainstein, Lutzky and Tiroler founded Pigmentum in 2018. Lutzky serves as CEO and Tiroler, CTO.

Their technology is founded on the inducible mechanism in transgenic plants. This means that the plant gene – which Pigmentum encodes to produce specific compounds – is ‘fully silent’ until the start-up deploys an external agrochemical signal. “Our plants gain biomass and grow at natural, high rates,” ​Lutzky explained. “Only when we implement our agrochemical via an irrigation system or spraying do the plants respond with the hyperexpression of a specific desired compound. This is the core IP of Pigmentum.”​

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