Reddit Interviews The Man Who Invented Printable Meat. Yes.

by
Owen Poindexter
Andras Forgacs, the CEO of Modern Meadow, would like to serve you a delicious sirloin steak, printed in a lab with no harm done to any animal and scientifically optimized for nutrition. Have questions? So did Reddit.

 

Andras Forgacs, the CEO of Modern Meadow, would like to serve you a delicious sirloin steak, printed in a lab with no harm done to any animal and scientifically optimized for nutrition. Bioprinting is a word we will eventually have to learn, but right now, it's more in the prototype/proof-of-concept phase. Still, Forgacs (and the simple facts of the matter) make a strong case that our current methods and demand for meat production are unsustainable at current levels, and will only get worse as the world population grows and modernizes.

So, do you have some questions for this guy? So did Reddit. Forgacs did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with Reddit to explain how this all works and when we can expect to print our dinners from home.

As Forgacs explained, it could be a decade or more before his printed meat is available for sale and cost-competitive with standard beef (as in, from a dead cow), but without bioprinting (or a sudden increase in the popularity of vegetarreanism) we may be doomed. Despite that, Forgacs said there was no plan to print human meat (someone asked, lengthy and hilarious comment thread followed, click the link to see).

Here are some highlights from Forgacs' Reddit AMA:

newyankee

What is the input , what is the output ? Explain like i am five, for 1 kg of meat , what is needed ?

[–]aforgacs (Andras Forgacs of Modern Meadow)

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.

SalishSailor

10 years ago as a biochemistry undergraduate I remember speculating about the possibility of meat factories. I imagined muscles growing on racks, being maintained by tubes acting as artificial blood vessels. I'm thrilled that someone is actually working on this!

Is the matured / conditioned muscle tissue grown in the way I envisioned back then, much like real muscles but on supporting racks with artificial blood vessels? Or is it more like suspended in a nutrient solution?

[–]aforgacs

Glad to hear about your enthusiasm and early vision for this field. 10 years ago you were among the early wave of thinkers about this approach.

We are currently growing muscle cells in roller bottles (suitable for anchorage dependent cells) and cell culture medium. Then we separate out the cells from the medium (via centrifuging) and assemble 3D tissues using bioassembly techniques such as bioprinting. You are right that beyond a certain thickness, the tissues need perfusion (via blood vessels or otherwise) to continue to receive nutrients and O2 during the maturation process. We're working on a number of approaches to facilitate this. Importantly, however, unlike medical tissues, a piece of meat is post-mortem and does not need to be living and functional in the end.

iamaredditer

Does it taste the same as regular meat?

[–]aforgacs

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.

puntloos

A couple of questions:

  • 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

  • What do you base your 99% less land etc etc statement on? Kobe Beef?

  • Instead, can you contrast eating your product with something like soy or quinoa from the ecological point of view?

  • Would this product be a viable way to provide protein (and perhaps some iron etc) macronutrition to the world or will it always be luxury?

  • are you planning to print the perfect turducken?

  • What is your take on the health aspects of meat? Some health aspects are avoidable - I assume your product will not have many antibiotics or mercury etc but some health issues are inherent to meat.. are you able to improve on nature

[–]aforgacs

Really good questions. Here goes:

  • 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. 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.

  • The environmental analysis was based on comparisons with traditional intensive farming of beef from studies by Tuomisto and de Mattos. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es200130u

  • Compared to plants, eating meat will be more environmentally taxing. I'm not familiar with the details of soy or quinoa but I imagine that it is hard to find any meat product that competes with plants in terms of environmental efficiency. Our best hope is to find/develop products that reduce the burden as much as possible.

  • It won't always be luxury but it has to start as a premium item since supply will be extremely limited and expensive in the beginning. This approach scales so it will progressively become more cost effective as volumes increase. Eventually, it can become an alternative for feeding not just gourmets in the developed world but aspiring consumers (with more meat-based diets) in emerging markets.

  • No plans yet for turducken but what a great idea.

  • On the health aspects of meat, I'm no expert but I understand that meat provides some essential nutrients that are more challenging to supplement otherwise (iron, b vitamins, proteins, etc.). Our products will have the advantage of providing all the nutritional advantages of meat with fewer undesirable ingredients (mercury, antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, etc.). We will be able to optimize fat content (better HDL/LDL profile, omega 3, etc.) and enhance nutrition (bio-available iron, vitamins, etc.).

whereisria

What kind of meat do you print? Beef? Fish? Pork? Or everything? (Human??)

[–]aforgacs

Theoretically, we could make meat from any kind of muscle. That said, we are working on beef first since we want to demonstrate success in something well established. We had previously made samples in pork for our demo at TEDMED but the focus now is on beef.

As we achieve the right proof of concept with beef, we may branch out to other types of high value and environmentally taxing meats as well such as pork, blue-fin tuna, etc.

Human meat is not on the menu. Sorry.

[–]I_wwebsite

So you could theoretically make just tenderloin, bacon, and sashimi grade fish?

[–]aforgacs

Theoretically yes. That's the real virtue of this approach. You can make the most desirable parts without having to grow (and kill) an entire animal.

Dayanx

I'm wondering how flesh consistency is done. Doesn't muscle tissue require exercise to keep from turning out like jelly?

[–]aforgacs

Absolutely. Bioassembly (using a bioprinter or otherwise) is just one step of the process. The muscle tissue does need to be conditioned post-assembly for a period of time. This requires specialized bioreactors that can continue to provide nutrients to the muscle while it is being exercised.

vegn

Andras, thanks for doing this! Do you see an age where people have largely stopped consuming "traditional meat" (straight from the animal) and overwhelmingly choose 3D meat? If so, when?

[–]aforgacs

Thanks for the question. As optimistic as I am about this approach, it will likely never fully displace traditionally farmed meat. Rather, it will be an option from hopefully several alternatives to traditional intensive meat farming.

Think of the parallels to the energy industry. Historically, the vast majority of our energy came from fossil fuels. Today, there's been growth in renewable sources and nuclear to balance out the portfolio of energy options.

Similarly, currently, the vast majority of our meat comes from intensive factory farming. Hopefully, in the future, there will be a more balanced approach between factory farming, organic/local and plant/animal-based alternatives.

That said, it is possible that this approach (and others like it) can shift our moral consciousness and that raising/slaughtering animals may one day seem brutal when there are more humane alternatives to eating the same protein.

mitchell007

How soon can we expect your "meat" to be in our grocery stores?

[–]aforgacs

That will take a while since it has to be perfected first and then has to be approved by regulators such as FDA and USDA. As we perfect it, we will organize small tastings but we won't be able to sell it in stores without full approval. That could take up to a decade or more. It is also possible that this product will be available for sale abroad before it is sold in the US.

shiv4m

Good Morning Curly,

That pig diagram on the Solve for X conference seems a bit scary just because I don't understand it. Yes it will be more efficient for us to eat this rather than raising animals to slaughter, but is this stuff healthy? What does this 'serum' consist of?

[–]aforgacs

Good question. The meat that comes from this process will be healthy and, in fact, can be healthier in ways that are difficult to achieve for conventionally grown meat. We can control fat content (and type), vitamins, etc. Importantly, this won't be sold to the public without being thoroughly tested and demonstrated to be safe.

The approach in the pig diagram is largely cell culture followed by bio-fabrication of muscle tissue, maturation of these tissues and then preparing this muscle into meat products (flavoring, texturing, etc.).

The culture media is very standard and consists of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, salts and simple sugars like glucose. We are working to optimize our cell culture media to be plant based and independent of animal products.

 

 

I, for one, can't wait for my first plate of printed meat. Who's with me? Let me know in the comments and on twitter.