David Lipman has the meat business in his blood. Lipman, the director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, is the son and grandson of butchers and cattle brokers. He worked for the family business, Lipman’s Kosher Market in Rochester, N.Y., starting at the age of 7.
Now he’s going full circle. Later this month, Lipman will join Impossible Foods—a startup making plant-based animal product alternatives—as its first chief science officer overseeing R&D and information technology.
Impossible Foods’ mission is in part trying to answer a problem Lipman experienced firsthand in the butcher shop growing up: “I always thought that process was incredibly wasteful,” he says. The startup’s first product, the Impossible Burger, uses about 75% less water, produces about 87% fewer greenhouse gases, and requires about 95% less land than conventional ground beef.
Lipman has known Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown for 20 years and been looped into his plans for the company for about a decade. “This is something I’ve been following,” he says. “The level of science they’re bringing to food, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Impossible Foods’ move to hire Lipman signals the company’s commitment to food tech and science. Lipman has led the NCBI, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, since its inception almost 30 years ago. More than 4 million people, who download more than 100 Terabytes of data every day, use the NCBI’s databases that include GenBank for DNA sequences and PubMed for biomedical information.
Lipman, who is one of the most highly cited scientists in biomedical research has been involved in the food space through work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Food and Drug Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He helped develop a system for speeding up the detection of foodborne illness through the genomic sequencing of pathogens.
“We have to solve really scientific problems, which is exactly what is going on at Impossible Foods,” he says, noting that the company is focusing on protein science, molecular work, and filtration.