Two months after announcing its intention to double its research and development team from approximately 150 to 300 employees, Impossible Foods, plant-based meat maker and competitor to Beyond Meat (NASDAQ:BYND), hired a new Chief Science Officer, Dr. John York of Vanderbilt University, to head the department starting in January. York has previously worked at pharmaceutical titan Merck, according to Business Insider reporting.

In Impossible's press release on the subject, York said that the "opportunity to use biochemistry to save the planet is a spectacular motivation." Answering directly to Impossible Foods founder and CEO Patrick Brown, the new CSO will oversee product innovation, including its expanding R&D team.

A plant-based burger on a table with a green smoothie nearby.

Image source: Getty Images.

York's work deals with the field of protein structure, as well as biochemical analysis and experimentation. That makes him an obvious fit for Impossible's manipulation of plant proteins into meat, egg, and dairy equivalents. The company says it has a lineup of 250 current and pending patents, along with $1.5 billion it will use to drive its research, according to the press release.

Both Impossible and Beyond are operating in the plant-based protein sector, which is growing rapidly but is still dwarfed by traditional farming and meatpacking. According to Impossible Foods' CEO, the companies are not competing directly against each other but against the suppliers of traditional meat harvested from animals. Any advances Impossible makes could thus potentially benefit the entire faux meat sector by popularizing these still-novel foods. The recent government approval for cultured meat in Singapore for one small company could similarly signal a new growth opportunity for the whole range of eco-friendly meat substitute makers.

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