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  automated... we can monitor the entire farming system remotely. Before, we relied on experience, but now we depend more on technology,” said AAG’s chief executive officer Eric Ng, citing problems with algae blooms in recent years that have wiped out farmers’ fish stocks.
Developing alternative protein
In view of environmental costs and food security concerns surrounding animal agriculture, Singapore has joined the race to develop lab grown food. Clean with a low carbon footprint, it is being promoted as the alternative protein of the future. Under the Government’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, S$144 million has been allocated to fund food- related research, including sustainable urban food production, future foods and food safety science and innovation.
At the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)’s Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) trials have begun on culturing meat leveraging on its existing technology in bioproduction and stem cell bioengineering. To make meat, stem cells are extracted from animals, in BTI’s case Chinese hamster ovary cells. The cells are first stored in sterile flasks
and fed liquid nutrients before being transferred to bioreactors to multiply.
The cells are then harvested which are then mixed with other ingredients to create “minced meat” products such as patties, sausages and dumpling filling, which has nutritional value similar with the real McCoy. Tissue engineering is required to create whole meat cuts.
“Cultured meat products like minced meat or meat fillings are easier to develop than a slice of beef steak or chicken fillet, which would require additional technology to create the texture, mouth-feel and taste that consumers are looking for,” Dr Kelvin Ng, head of strategic innovation at BTI, told The Straits Times.
Unlike the meatless meat made from yellow peas and fava beans popularised by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, Dr Ng said the lab grown meat is real meat. By end 2019, BTI plans to start making chicken meat in the lab using cells extracted from live chickens sourced locally.
For Singapore start-up Shiok Meats, the focus is on shrimps. At its lab in Biopolis, two stem cell biologists Dr Sandhya Sriram and Dr Ling Ka Yi, who met as A*STAR colleagues, have isolated stem cells from locally farmed, antibiotic- free shrimps. Likewise, they have grown the cells in a liquid nutrient media before transferring them into a bioreactor to grow in numbers and form muscle fibres. The liquid nutrient mix is then removed leaving behind the solid scrimp meat.
At the Second Disruption in Food and Sustainability Summit on 29 March 2019, Shiok Meats gave Singapore its first taste test with three of its first eight prawn dumplings. Response to the scrimps has been generally positive. Said Dr Sriram, “When we opened the steamer, everyone got a whiff and said that they smelt like the ocean. The taste (sweetness) is exactly what
regular shrimp tastes like. We have to do a bit of tinkering on texture for sure, and are already working on it.”
Even while researchers tweak the texture, taste and visual appeal of their lab grown products to ensure market acceptance, they are redoubling efforts to bring their cost down. For Shiok Meats, the first eight dumplings cost S$5,000 each. As the high cost of culture media is a key contributor, researchers are looking for alternatives. By developing its own inhouse culture media, Shiok Meats hopes to reduce its scrimp cost to S$50 per kg by end 2020.
More can be expected as Singapore ramps up its effort to leverage science, technology and innovation to overcome its resource constraints and combat climate change. Ongoing research include the development of supercrops that can survive drought and withstand high temperatures as well as superfish, premium tilapia which are disease-resistant and rich in Omega-3.
Development is also underway to build a new Agri-Food Innovation Park at Sungei Kadut to catalyse innovation in the agritech ecosystem. Spread over 18 hectares, it will accommodate high-tech urban indoor farming and associated R&D activities, including indoor plant factories, insect farms and animal feed production facilities. The park is located within the Greater Sungei Kadut area, forming part of a larger Northern Agri-Tech and Food Corridor with food-related industries. The first phase will be ready from the second quarter of 2021, with potential for future expansion.
With little arable land, Singapore is an unlikely place for a farming revolution. But by its ability to leverage its deep R&D and expertise in engineering and manufacturing, it may well be the next great place for urban agriculture and agritech.

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