Cellular Agriculture

Big Data for Better Produce
March 10, 2020
DNA Storage
March 10, 2020

Cellular Agriculture

Cellular agriculture refers to the production of agricultural products from cell cultures, and it’s key to producing lab-grown meat. In 2013, the University of Maastricht introduced the world to the first lab-grown hamburger patty, and it cost $330,000 to create. Since then, a number of startups have been working on various techniques to culture—rather than harvest—meat that has the same chemical structure of what would have come from an animal. Fast food chains like Chipotle now offer Impossible meat, a beef substitute made from genetically-modified yeast. Many U.S. grocery stores now sell ground Impossible meat, too. Clara Foods serves up creamy lab-grown eggs, fish that never swam in water, and cow’s milk brewed from yeast. Perfect Day will focus on yogurt, cheese, and ice cream—sans the cows, and instead grown inside a lab. Memphis Meats, Beyond Meat and Aleph Farms are working on lab-grown chicken and beef using pea protein and other plant materials. Eclipse Foods is a plant-based dairy company that makes an ice cream base. New Wave Foods makes algae-based shrimp, while Finless Foods makes fish flesh. The clean meat movement is heading towards acellular agriculture, which doesn’t require starter cells extracted from muscle biopsies. Instead, it generates meat from microbes. This will allow researchers to someday soon cultivate milk, chicken, and eggs. It will take years before producers can scale production to meet demand, and there is no guarantee everyone will adopt the meatless meal. In 2018, the U.S. beef industry took aim at the nascent industry, filing a petition to bar non-animal products from the definition of meat and creating a consumer campaign against lab-grown meat. Yet retail sales of plant-based meat grew to $1 billion in 2019, up 56% from 2015—while retail meat sales remained flat, according to Nielsen. French lawmakers also passed a law that bans vegetarian companies from calling their products “bacon” and “sausage.” Still, in the future, you might buy meat at a local microbrewery, which instead of beer, “brews” meat. Or, for that matter, you might print your hamburger at home.