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Gelzen is making cruelty-free gelatin using microbes.

Tamara Palmer
May 10, 2016

Gelatin comes from animals, right? Yes, but there's a San Francisco startup working to change that. Gelzen is using bacteria make what it says is real gelatin—not a similar, plant-derived substitute.

The process sounds simple, if a little sci-fi. Gelzen programs bacteria and yeast with the same genetic program that produces gelatin in animal tissue, then uses the strains to ferment gelatin.

The goal, says the company's co-founder and CEO Alex Lorestani, is to introduce an environmentally-friendly, cruelty-free alternative to a product used all around the world. Before he started Gelzen, Lorestani studied antibiotic-resistant bacteria. "When I learned that more than 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are deployed on animal factory farms, I began to appreciate the tremendous impact that this process had on human health," he says. "Since then, a body of evidence supporting the flow of antibiotic-resistant pathogens from farms into communities has emerged. I saw replacing animal-derived proteins with recombinant proteins as a powerful tool in addressing this global problem."

Other companies have made forms of microbe-produced gelatin for pharmaceutical applications (such as a vaccine stablilizing agent for people who are allergic to bovine-derived gelatin), but, Lorestani says, no one else is working to get cost down to a level that's competitive with real gelatin and production up to a viable level for wide, multi-industry use. Scale is a serious challenge, but Lorestani estimates that Gelzen will be widely available in the next five years.