Heir to charcuterie fortune "gifts" $1m to fund cultivated research but is "a total dope" on science

By John Reynolds on Tuesday 22 March 2022

Heir to charcuterie fortune
Image source: Heir to charcuterie fortune "gifts" $1m to fund cultivated research but is "a total dope" on science
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The donation has been made to Tufts University, where Dukcevich studied, and the donation will fund research undertaken by a leading centre for cellular agriculture research in the US.

“I am a total dope” when it comes to the science behind cultivated meat, says the heir to a charcuterie fortune, who has donated $1m to a leading centre for cellular agriculture research in the US.

The family of Davide Dukcevich made and sold traditional charcuterie, including prosciutto, salami and sopresatta for three generations.

In 2020, after his family sold Daniele Charcuterie, Dukcevich learned about cultivated meat and told Future Food Finance “the idea was incredibly intriguing to me”.

He said: “I am not a scientist, I am relatively new to the field.

“My background is old-school meat. My entire goal in terms of the business was to make the life of the hogs better and better.

“In my mind, the best thing that could happen is a world where animals wouldn’t have to suffer.”

He says he hopes that cultured meat will lessen the “uglier” side of farming, the “more industrial stuff”, which he said takes place in markets outside the US.

Although admitting he is not an expert on cultured meat, he is aware of the debate around whether it could prove transformational or that the industry has been over-hyped.

“If there is a chance to make it work I am certainly happy and I am certainly 100 per cent supportive of making it work," he says.

“I am hoping that my gift will be able to push the technology forward to make it real.”

Dukcevich said he was moved to make the $1m donation after visiting students last year, who he saw growing muscle tissue.

"I am a total dope when it comes to the science so please forgive me. Another student showed me how he was growing animal fat, I was really sort of impressed by that."

He was also impressed by the idea of using cell-grown fats to launch hybrid products.

Dukcevich met with professor David Kaplan, Stern Family professor of engineering and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and his team of graduate students and postdocs to learn more about their research. 

“Seeing it with my own eyes and thinking about where the industry could go that was the clincher," he adds

The donation has been made to Tufts University, Dukcevich's alma mater, and the donation will fund research by Kaplan.

The Kaplan Lab develops biomaterials called biopolymers for use in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and other applications. 

Kaplan and his team are known for ground-breaking work in silk-based biomaterials, and are now seen as a leader in the cultivated agriculture space. 

At the moment, they are heading up a research project funded with a $10m grant from the US Department of Agriculture.

Dukcevich hopes his “gift” will add momentum at this critical, early phase of the field. 

“Davide’s gift is transformative,” says Kaplan, “providing support for our faculty and students to pursue research to advance the field of cellular agriculture. 

“In particular, gifts from individual donors allow us to pursue novel ideas and bioengineering solutions that are otherwise challenging to support from traditional funding sources, allowing us to more rapidly advance the field for greater impact.”