Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly gives prominence to 18 distinguished and powerful women who are successful in their own right as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet 2020’s Sports, Health & Wellness nominee, Ka Yi Ling, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder of Shiok Meats
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Meet Ka Yi Ling – Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Sports, Health & Wellness Nominee
As a developmental and stem cell biologist with over 10 years of expertise in tracing and studying stem cells during development, Ka Yi Ling married her love for science and food to produce sustainable food products.
“The way the world eats at present is unsustainable and unhealthy for the environment, animals, and ourselves,” the 33 year old Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder of Shiok Meats goes on to explain, “Shiok Meats is a cell-based crustacean company and we use stem-cells to make shrimp, crab, and lobster. We wanted to create meat that is healthy and environmentally-friendly that’s as tasty and nutritious, but without involving any animal cruelty.” Her cell-based clean meat company is the first of its kind in Singapore and South-East Asia.
Science had always been a passion for Ka Yi, even back in Junior College, she knew that she wanted to become a research scientist. Her first experience in the industry was joining a lab led by Hanry Yu in a tissue engineering lab where they made little devices to have the functions of kidneys. She helped grow kidney cells and see if they were able to perform similar functions and, “Obviously I didn’t know what I was doing and it was an actual scientist or bio-engineer doing the work. But I loved it all the same.”
As an active science communicator, she also frequently partakes in science outreach to share about food sustainability. On top of all her achievements, she also does a podcast, Science Now, and Life after PhD, with fellow scientists.
Science has often been used as a solution for social issues, and with the population of the world is estimated to reach around nine billion and seven hundred million by 2050 and given the current rate of growth, the relationship people have with their food sources needs to adapt to be more sustainable. “We believe it is important to do our part and increase food security.” Ka Yi shares, and by using stem cell technology, Shiok Meats hopes to eventually replace the habit of consuming live animals with cell-based meat.
Shiok Meats is the first of its kind and it held many challenges along the way. As Ka Yi recounts, “What my business partner Sandhya and I did was kind of crazy. We’re two young women, we left our jobs that were stable and we had no money and no support – just one cheque from our first advisor and investor of ten thousand US dollars. Which honestly if you tell people, they’ll be like, ‘That’s not even enough to buy you like one month’s worth of supplies.’ So we just started this on our own with very little money and big dreams that we think we can do.”
“You would think Singapore is great for biotech with lots of research labs in NUS and NTU but we couldn’t find a place to do our test experiments, other than on St John Island. So when we started, we had to take the boat every morning at 8 o’clock at Marina Pier. Some days there were two boats out of the island but most of the time it was at the end of the day at 5:30 pm. So we were stuck on the island.”
Though the obstacles and challenges kept coming, they never got in the way of their purposeful vision for Shiok Meats. The personal motivation for Ka Yi to continue Shiok Meats can be summarised in one count, that she wants people to have the option to eat clean meat that’s environmentally-friendly, nutritious, and has as little harm on animals as possible. “I cannot say that I am 100 per cent doing my part on the sustainability ship, but I want to put my knowledge and skills into something that can at least help sustain the world and help make it a better place for people.”
The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2020 is brought to you by the presenter, Lancôme.