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Biomedicine

EmTech: Three Questions with the Man Who Grows Meat

Modern Meadow’s CEO explains how he’ll culture leather and make steak from giant vats brewing muscle and skin cells.

As the world’s populations grows, artificial versions of meat could put less strain on water, land, and energy.

Modern Meadow, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York, is aiming to commercialize leather and meat products that are not made from slaughtered animals but brewed in cell-culture vats. If it works, and if the market embraces the resulting products, it would lead to vast savings in water, land, and energy use associated with livestock production.

Andras Forgacs

Company CEO and cofounder Andras Forgacs—who previously cofounded Organovo, a company that uses 3-D printers to create human tissue for biomedical applications—spoke today at EmTech and later sat down with David Talbot, chief correspondent of MIT Technology Review.

What’s the idea behind Modern Meadow?

The company was founded to expand the ideas from biomedical tissue engineering: if we can grow skin, can we make leather? If we can grow muscle, can we make meat? We’ve now done so—and are working with chefs and leather artisans to perfect our materials. We’re a materials company, and our near-term focus is on leather. You want to make sure we have high quality and have achieved the right kind of material, and then develop a process that can scale.

But you’ve also been making batches of snacks you are calling “steak chips” made from cow muscle cells, with flavors like teriyaki and shiitake mushroom. You didn’t bring any. When will they be ready?

We’re doing private tastings but are still are refining the recipe and developing ways to scale production. We have to think about whether this is the project we take to market. We hope steak chips will be available commercially within five years, and eventually competitive with high-end snack foods like kale chips, but it depends on regulatory process and scaling the manufacturing. We’ve been told they taste a little like beef jerky, but crunchy.

I have to ask. Could I take a few muscle cells out of my arm, and …

Ah, the Hannibal Lecter question. Could we do it? Of course it could be done. But we take bioethics seriously, and it’s not something we would do. We’re trying to make the idea of meat breweries become normal and appealing. That’s probably not the best way to do it.

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