As CNET reports, earlier this week, the Thiel Foundation (under billionaire investor Peter Thiel) announced that it is giving up to $350,000 to a Columbia, Missouri-based startup, Modern Meadow, to develop bio-printed meat as an environmentally-friendly alternative to animal protein.
If it sounds like something out of science fiction, it is. “Shmeat” was a term in William Gibson’s Necromancer, CNET points out. Plus “synthetic meatloaf” was featured in an original Star Trek episode and, in the Orin’s Arm Universe Project, prillets are printed-out animals “without any bones at all, often premarinated.”
Certainly being able to print out meat, or any food, from the comfort of your own tech-equipped kitchen would give new meaning to the notion of “growing your own.”
So What’s Involved In Bio-Printing Meat?
A little more about Modern Meadow’s plans from a summary it submitted to the USDA: Bio-printing has already been “applied to build three-dimensional tissues and organ structures of specific architecture and functionality for purposes of regenerative medicine.” For instance, CNET recently reported about how bio-printing created “magic arms” for 4 1/2 year old Emma Lavelle who has a rare neuromuscular condition, Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, causing contracted joints and muscle weakness.
As Modern Meadow says, creating “a strip of edible porcine tissue using print-based tissue engineering approach” is “scaffold-free,” meaning that it “does not rely on any artificial material to form the desired structure.” It’s also observed that bio-printed meat could address world hunger as it could “reach the masses with religious restrictions on meat consumption (people restricted to Hindu, Kosher, Halal diets) and finally populations with limited access to safe meat production.”
Ethical and Environmental Benefits to Making Meat
There are indeed compelling ethical and environmental reasons to make meat. Modern Meadow co-founder Andras Forgacs is critical of traditional livestock practices, saying that “if you look at the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger, it is an environmental train wreck.”
As a recent Care2 post notes, while a hamburger may only cost 99 cents at Wendy’s, the “environmental impacts of beef production” as well as “extra health care costs for obesity-related issues” add up to $1.51 in hidden costs.
At the moment, 3D printed meat would cost far too much to create to make it a viable solution (and, the meat created will not be something like a steak but “minced meat for the preparation of sausages, patties and nuggets”). But with meat demand predicted to double in the next forty years, making synthetic meat of whatever sort available at a reasonable price could help to lower greenhouse gas emissions (methane released from livestock contributes to global warming) and also preserve pasture lands, most of which are already in use.
Of course, we could all just go vegan or vegetarian, too.
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