The cattle industry has a lot of critics, and not without reason: Cattle take up a lot of space, contribute to habitat destruction and deforestation, belch harmful methane into the atmosphere and consume massive amounts of food. But one Brooklyn-based start-up is aiming to address these issues with an innovative, if unexpected, solution: lab-grown meat.
Co-founded in 2011 by Andras Forgacz, Gabor Forgacz, Francoise Marga, and Karoly Jakab, Modern Meadow is using a technology called tissue engineering to grow leather and meat from the confines of a laboratory — no animals harmed in the making. With the help of a process called “bioprinting,” which allows scientists to 3-D print tissues that are cultured from animal cells in the lab, the entrepreneurs are able to produce a humane and eco-friendly animal product.
Andras Forgacz spoke about the research this week at the MIT Technology Review, and Modern Meadow scientists presented a taste of their research earlier this year at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin with a plate of “steak chips” — potato chip-like discs of lab-grown meat, which Andras Forgacz says can be produced for less than $US100 apiece.
It’s not the first time such a venture has been attempted. Last year, professor Mark Poke of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, produced a lab-cultured hamburger and presented it at a public tasting in London — an achievement that won him the World Technology Award for Environment. Unfortunately, his burger won’t be available at your local fast food joint any time soon — it cost more than $US300,000 to make.
The research comes at a critical time for Planet Earth. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that an area of rainforest the size of New York City is lost to cattle grazing land each year, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that the industry pours 2.9 gigatonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere annually. Additionally, recent research from the United Nations projects that the world’s population could top 12 billion people by 2100. If production costs become cheaper, lab-grown meat could be one way to feed an ever-growing human population without continuing to destroy the environment.
But tissue engineering has plenty of other applications, as well — most notably as a way to grow tissues and organs for use in medical research and procedures. In fact, before founding Modern Meadow, Andras Forgacz co-founded Organovo, a company that bioprints human tissues.
For now, research continues in Modern Meadow’s lab. They don’t have any products commercially available yet, but as environmental advocates continue to put the heat on the livestock industry, a safe and eco-friendly alternative to farm-raised animal products may be just what the doctor ordered.
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