My name is Smita Shankar and I am Director of Research at Impossible foods.
Animal farming is one of the largest contributors to global climate change. At Impossible foods, we’re trying to reduce the impact of animal farming on the planet by creating a delicious burger made entirely out of plant materials. A key driver of flavor in beef is heme, a molecule found in animal muscle. We use yeast fermentation to make soybean Leghemoglobin, the heme protein that is the key ingredient of the Impossible burger.
My background is in molecular biology and yeast genetics. I joined IF as a scientist over 5 years ago. Here, I set up the microbial strain development program and established the yeast Pichia pastoris as a host for producing soybean Leghemoglobin protein. I have one issued patent covering the methods we use to genetically modify the yeast to make Leghemoglobin. I lead a team of 8 scientists and fermentation engineers and our goal is to improve the economics of production of this protein. Over the last 4 years, my team has built robust processes and successfully scaled protein production from lab to manufacturing, enabling commercialization of our burger and supporting current expansion to over 5000 restaurants across the country.