For the first time, lab-cultured meat has been successfully harvested 248 miles (399 km) from any natural resources, in space.
The cultures were successfully grown in the Russian lab module on the International Space Station (ISS) using a 3D bioprinter during the tests led by Israeli food technology startup, Aleph Farms.
Combining with Russian company, 3D Bioprinting Solutions, Aleph Farms were aiming to develop a method of replicating animal meat tissues with extremely limited natural resources. Derived from cows, the meat cells used in the experiment were initially cultivated on Earth before being transported to the ISS. Once aboard the space station the cells were then mixed with a series of growth factors which produced a kind of biological ink that could then be used to construct the meat tissue.
Back in December 2018, the Israeli firm stated that they had successfully created what they called “the first cell grown minute steak” in their labs on Earth. Yet, as it stands, producing lab grown meats is yet to prove to be cost-effective. However, Aleph Farms are also well aware of the costs of a changing climate and hope to advance their processes so that they can eventually produce environmentally conscious, slaughter-free meat.
The issue of climate change is a pertinent one for Aleph Farms and comes in the wake of the UN’s IPCC 2019 special report which stated livestock farming was a significant contributor with regards to the current climate emergency – around 14.5% of total global emissions.
In fact, due to the amount of water and energy required to produce just 1 lb of beef – around 2500 gallons of water 12lbs of grain, 35lbs of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline – new solutions are needed to meet the demands of the global food supply. Potential solutions range from individuals changing their eating habits to sustainable agricultural practices as well as making the most of new technologies, such as the pioneering process demonstrated by Aleph Farms and their partners.
During the ISS meat experiments, the project team noticed that due to the micro-gravity conditions aboard the space station the printing and growth of the synthetic meat could take place in all directions without the need for additional support.
When cultivating lab-grown meats on Earth, the process can only print one side at a time and requires the support of a lattice to print each layer of cells. This means that the conditions in space make for more efficient, faster harvesting and growth of bio-printed meats.
While Aleph Farms acknowledge the technology is still in its nascent phase, there is indeed a future for artificial meat that extend beyond plant-based products towards ‘real’ synthetic meats. One of the other challenges the team has faced is replicating the naturalistic meaty texture of beef and other animal products. This is due to aligning the organic matter in the correct arrangement as using meat-cells alone is not enough to recreating a genuine product.
These efforts and the cutting-edge research led by Aleph Farms demonstrates a possibility for the sustainable future of meat production.
We are proving that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere, in any condition. We can potentially provide a powerful solution to produce the food closer to the population needing it, at the exact and right time it is needed.
Didier Toubia, CEO and Co-founder, Aleph Farms
Other ventures similar to Aleph Farms are also underway in the quest for creating lab-grown or in vitro meats - both Mosa Meats in the Netherlands and Memphis Meats in the US are researching and developing their own techniques. These shared visions are a move toward preserving our natural resources as well as addressing the demand for food here on Earth, and beyond.