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Plant cell cultivation startup Ayana Bio scales up agriculture-free saffron

Article-Plant cell cultivation startup Ayana Bio scales up agriculture-free saffron

© iStock/Igor Dudchak Plant cell cultivation startup Ayana Bio scales up agriculture-free saffron
Ayana Bio has inked a seven-figure deal with Wooree Green Science to develop high-potency, full-spectrum saffron bioactives using plant cell cultivation instead of traditional agriculture.

Frank Jaksch, CEO of Ayana Bio, explained how climate change-driven crop failures are exacerbating an already constrained supply chain due to the plant’s labour-intensive harvesting needs. Plant cell cultivation, he added, is a cost-efficient alternative production method that bypasses the constraints of agricultural supply chains.

“By creating bioactive ingredients with plant cell cultivation, we don’t need the land, irrigation, herbicides, or pesticides required by agriculture, or create wasted biomass to extract bioactives,” Jaksch said. “It also solves the bioactive potency, quality, and standardization problem, as it is very challenging to reliably obtain plant-based ingredients with consistent levels of plant bioactives sourced from agriculture-based supply chains.”

Plant materials are created without growing plants in the ground

Ayana Bio’s plant cell cultivation approach, simply put, creates plant materials without growing plants in the ground. By growing real plant cells in stainless steel tanks, this process delivers the health benefits of plant bioactives without the quality issues that come from the constraints of conventional agriculture, including climate change.

The firm’s plant cell cultivation technology produces the full spectrum of bioactives found in nature – or with an even higher potency of beneficial bioactives.

“Historically, plant cell culture is not new, and cost, genetic instability, and scaling have been formidable challenges in achieving commercial scale for plant cell culture,” said Jaksch. “Because of significant advances in synthetic biology over the past 10 years, the technology necessary to develop plant cells to achieve cost and scale is now available.

"Ultimately, the successful commercialisation of plant cell programmes will be driven by the ability to select and optimise plant cells during the early stages of development.”

The starting point is the Crocus sativus plant

In the case of saffron, the journey starts with authenticated Crocus sativus plant material, which  Ayana Bio use to develop a callus. (In botany, a callus is the soft tissue that forms over a wounded or cut plant surface that leads to healing.) Once the callus is formed, the team adapts it to a liquid media to screen and observe growth and the metabolites that are produced.

“We use the power of multi-omics testing to identify the best cell line to produce the bioactives of interest and lock in the cell line for optimization,” said Jaksch. He also highlighted Ayana Bio’s technology partner, Ginkgo Bioworks, and its role in analysing thousands of plant cell lines to select the best ones. “Once we have locked in the optimised plant cell line, we no longer need to continue using agricultural-derived material.”

The agreement will specifically see plant cell-derived saffron and other bioactive ingredients for health and wellness products distributed in the South Korean market.

Um Tae Wook, CEO of Wooree Green Science, a subsidiary of South Korean firm Wooree Bio, said the company was excited to collaborate with Ayana Bio to create ingredients for applications across food and beverages, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.

Saffron is even more difficult to grow in face of climate change

Current growth methods require up to 170,000 flowers to produce just one kilo of saffron, making it a prohibitively expensive ingredient for supplements. Saffron also faces several climate change issues, like shifting weather patterns, pollution and water shortages in the limited number of countries where traditional production happens. Despite the challenges, saffron remains an attractive botanical-based ingredient due to its role in aiding weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing metabolism.

Ayana Bio’s ingredient portfolio includes various high-value ingredients with scarcity issues such as hedge nettle, sage, echinacea, and lemon balm.