Feb.27, 2013

Andras Forgacs, CEO of Modern Meadow, a company developing leather products directly from real animal cells, popped up on Reddit today for answering questions.


Modern Meadow received a six-figure seed investment from PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs last year in September. Early this year, the team made small pieces of artificially grown muscle which is about 2cm long, 1cm wide and about 1mm thick, and the costs was about 250,000 euros.

Forgacs explained today what bioprinting meat is:

The input are largely animal cells (muscle, fat and a couple other types - taken from a donor animal through a biopsy) and cell culture media (a soup in which the cells grow made of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, salts, sugars) and then energy to run the process. Output is muscle tissue that is then matured/conditioned until it is processed into meat products.

 

No blending of different species. Pig stays pig. Cow stays cow. Etc. We are using multiple cell types from each animal but staying with the same animal. In fact, an advantage of this approach is that it can ensure purity. Because we control the inputs and have such a tight process, we know the exact ingredients of every batch. No mystery meat surprises like the recent one from the UK.

Forgacs says that their motivation is as much about minimizing animal suffering as it is about mitigating the environmental impacts. Here are some Q&As:

So where does the cell culture media come from?

Currently, we buy it "off the shelf" from bio supply companies like ThermoFisher (HyClone) or Life Technologies (Invitrogen Gibco). In time, as we become larger users of media, we will progressively optimize our cell culture media to be perfectly matched for the cells we are growing. Our goal is also to reduce and eliminate all animal products from these media.

How is the culture media produced?

Here's a tidbit on cell culture medium.

It is made of amino acids, salts, vitamins and minerals. Each manufacturer (i.e. ThermoFisher, Life Technologies, Sigma-Aldrich) adheres to very high ISO standards of purity and sterility. These cell culture media have been used for the last 50+ years of cell culture work and are a familiar foundation for cell biology.

Does it taste the same as regular meat?

I've tasted it as have my colleagues. We've only been able to have small bites since we're still working on getting the process right.

I cooked some pieces in olive oil and ate some with and without salt and pepper. Not bad. The taste is good but not yet fully like meat. We have yet to get the fat content right and other elements that influence taste. This process will be iterative and involve us working closely with our consulting chefs.

How do you expect pricing to develop? Looking for an answer like: First production: limited distribution, $100/kg First large grocery chain adoption: $40/kg Replaced all animal-meat in the world: $0.01/kg

On pricing, I can't give you too much detail since we still don't fully know the answers. Currently, we are only making a couple ounces at a time so price is meaningless at such a small scale. We anticipate getting to limited production at something around $100/lb but hopefully less. At scale, this process requires 99% less land, 96% less water, 96% less greenhouse gases emitted and half as much energy. By the time this scales to grocery stores, it should be more affordable at $30/lb or less. These are just rough figures since a lot will change as our approach evolves.

How confident are you that you can get it identical to a real steak within, say, 10 years? How about for hamburger (which I assume is easier)?

Real steak is a big stretch. It won't be the first product since steak is very hard to make for now. Instead, the first wave of meat products to be made with this approach will likely be minced meats (burgers, sausages, etc.) and pates (goose liver pate, etc.). Also seafood is an early possibility since the texture requires may be easier to achieve than premium cuts.

While I doubt anyone will make commercial quantities of premium steak within 10 years, we will eventually get there but it will be an Nth generation product.

How will this impact the meat industry financially?

Until this technology is perfected and approved by FDA/USDA, there will be no impact on the meat industry. Afterwards, this will start as a small/niche product as it gains production scale and a following. Today 300 million tons of meat are eaten worldwide annually and expected to nearly double over the next 30-40 years. The impact this could have is to reduce the singular dependence we have on intensive factory farming for our meat.

Read more on Reddit.

Co-founder Gabor Forgacs eat 3D printed meat in his TED talk (at 5:33).


 

 

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Anja wrote at 2/28/2013 6:29:10 AM:

Corrected. Thanks!

Andras Forgacs wrote at 2/28/2013 12:59:39 AM:

Thanks for your article. A correction - we were not the team that made a 250K euro piece of meat earlier this year. That may be referring to the work of Dr. Mark Post in the Netherlands. We don't quote a price for our research products and it is certainly a lot less expensive than 250K euros. Thanks for making this correction.

jeff wrote at 2/27/2013 4:03:30 PM:

"affordable at $30 / lb or less" when is scales to grcery stores and not being able to produce a "premium" product at that level screams financial FAIL to me. Premium meat products are currently in the $7 - $15 / lb range, dependingon cut and consumer location (I'm assuming the USA as the figures were in dollars and pounds). Hamburger and sausage is in the $2.50 - $5 / lb range. Even assuming prices double before this reaches grocery stores, it would still be competing head to head with premium cuts for price. I don't think this is going to be viable (as food) until it reaches the $5 / lb level.



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