How to 'Print' Your Own Dinner

3D Printing Takes a Wild Turn

Written by Jimmy Mengel
Posted May 20, 2013

I remember watching an episode of The Jetsons as a kid and being floored by the idea that the family's food magically appeared in front of them... no muss, no fuss — a cloud of mist that produced a piping hot meal in seconds!

For years I waited anxiously for the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle that would conjure up a hot meal before my very eyes.

Turns out my wait might finally be over...

Welcome to the future, my friends.

If you're a regular reader of these pages, you know we've been beating the drum on 3D printing for years now. This technology has the power to revolutionize the way we live. We've seen 3D printers spit out guns, human tissue, even an entire house. And now we can add a new one to the list of printable goods: meat.

New breakthroughs have taken growing meat from the realm of schlocky horror films to real-life problem solving.

Gabor Forgacs, a biological physicist and co-founder of a “in-vitro meat” start-up, actually broke out the salt and pepper during a recent demonstration and chowed down on a hunk of “biomeat” in front of a delighted audience:

gabor meat

Gabor Forgacs salting his in-vitro meat at his TED talk.
Image courtesy of Invitromeats.com

“Not too bad,” he remarked, as he chewed and swallowed the one-inch strip.

Forgacs is the head of Modern Meadow, a company developing bioprinted meat as a way to both help satisfy the world's growing hunger problems and curb the damage that large-scale factory farming does to the environment.

The impetus for printing meat is rooted in a very real problem with very limited solutions. Making meat is one of the most resource-intensive processes know to man: It takes up one-third of all available land and wreaks havoc on greenhouse gas levels. Producing a quarter pounder, for example, takes almost seven pounds of feed, 50 gallons of water, and 75 square feet of land, according to the Journal of Animal Science.

In-vitro or 'cultured' meat could almost eliminate those issues. Forgacs predicts that Modern Meadow's meat would require 99% less land, 96% less water, and emit 96% fewer greenhouse gases than current methods of cultivating livestock.

How do they create this mystery meat?

Let's say you want to start on a batch of beef... Put simply, you'd take a biopsy of healthy cow cells and use it as a base for a sort of cell culture stew, combining the cells with amino acids, sugars, minerals, and other building blocks. This primordial soup would ferment into a printable form, which you'd print at home into the appropriate shapes and textures.

It might not sound like a mouth-watering process, but as they say, it's best not to see how the sausage gets made.

The million-dollar question is: How does it taste?

“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,” Modern Meadow’s CEO Andras Forgacs (Gabor Forgacs' son) told Reddit.

Modern Meadows will most likely start with ground meats and sausages before tackling the intricacies of a T-bone steak, a wild tuna, or a fine cut of Kobe beef.

While this is assuredly weird, wild stuff, this isn't some group of wiry mad scientists bringing this technology to the fore...

Billionaire investor and pay-pal founder Peter Thiel is throwing his weight behind Modern Meadows. He's invested $350,000 from the Thiel Foundation to help get the ball rolling. And this isn't the first outsider idea that Thiel, an avowed libertarian, has bankrolled: He's also funded Atlas Shrugged-inspired paradise islands and a fellowship that pays young people to skip college and create their own capital ventures. This guy is all about big ideas. His backing of the project bodes well for this industry in particular, as the Thiel Foundation's Breakout Labs division has successfully funded brain reconstruction and human cell re-engineering.

"Modern Meadow is combining regenerative medicine with 3D printing to imagine an economic and compassionate solution to a global problem,” a Breakout Labs spokeswomen said. "We hope our support will help propel them through the early stage of their development, so they can turn their inspired vision into reality."

Forgacs originally developed the technology to create tissues and organs for biomedical company Organova. Turns out creating edible meat will be a far easier process...

So far, bio-printing has been applied to build three-dimensional tissues and organ structures of specific architecture and functionality for purposes of regenerative medicine. Here we propose to adapt this technology to building meat products for consumption. The technology has several advantages in comparison to earlier attempts to engineer meat in vitro. The bio-ink particles can be reproducibly prepared with mixtures of cells of different type. This allows for control in composition that enables the engineering of healthy products of great variety.

With meat consumption slated to practically double by 2050, the world is aching for solutions on how to provide an extra 465 million tons of meat. And in-vitro meat appears to be the front runner to satisfy that need.

Dr. Mark Post has already assembled the world's first in-vitro hamburger, created from 20,000 strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dubbed the $325,000 burger due to its extreme cost, he takes it as the first step in an unstoppable process. 

mark post meat cultures

Dr. Mark Post displaying in-vitro meat samples.

“We already have sufficient technology to make a product that we could call meat or cultured beef, and we can eat it and we survive.”

The process could also open up to a brand-new market: vegetarians. A large bulk of vegetarians don't eat meat for ethical reasons, but may be chomping at the bit to indulge in nutritious, ethically-produced meat products... not to mention the millions of Indians who currently eschew cow for religious reasons who are hankering for a hamburger.

New markets mean bigger business.

Alas, it'll still be few years before you can print your dinner Jetsons-style. And though Modern Meadow is operating as a nonprofit organization, the for-profit investment opportunities are already ripe for the picking...

It's not a matter of if 3D printing could change the world. It's a matter of when. And once it does, early-bird investors like us are going to not only eat our 3D-printed steaks, but we'll be feasting on profits as well.

Godspeed,

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