Startup makes lab-grown steaks aboard the International Space Station
Sure, astronauts can now have fresh meat. But the first-of-its-kind experiment has larger implications as well.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the historic walk on the moon by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. But 2019 may go in the history books for yet another space first: the debut of lab-grown meat aboard the International Space Station.
Israel-based startup Aleph Farms has been working on planet earth creating the world's first steak grown inside a laboratory instead of a cow. Their finished product shares all the same characteristics of meat – appearance, shape texture – but it is 100% slaughter-free. As well, they don't use antibiotics, potentially causing less risk for food-borne illnesses.
To showcase their ability to make their steak anywhere, Aleph Farms thought outside the box. Well, outside the atmosphere to be exact. They sent the necessary tools to space and tasked an astronaut with making a piece of steak from scratch – using not much more than some cow cells and a 3D printer. The successful test was completed on the Russian side of the space station on Sep. 26.
It's a proof of concept that shows that humanity can produce slaughter-free meat anywhere, even in the harshest conditions – with no dependency on land or water. "This joint experiment marks a significant first step toward achieving our vision to ensure food security for generations to come, while preserving our natural resources," said Didier Toubia, the co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms
The project was a true international affair – involving a food corporation from the U.S., 3D printing technology from Russia and scientists in Israel. Aleph Farms is a member of The Kitchen, an Israel-based food-tech incubator developed by hummus maker Strauss Group Inc. and the Technion Institute in Haifa.
While creating steak inside a laboratory or up in space may seem like a neat parlor trick, the point of the experiment was to fulfill a grander vision. A report last month by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressed concern over the long-term viability of conventional farming. "The mission of providing access to high-quality nutrition anytime, anywhere in a sustainable way is an increasing challenge for all humans," said Jonathan Berger, CEO of The Kitchen. "On earth or up above, we count on innovators like Aleph Farms to take the initiative to provide solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, such as the climate crisis."
Jan Dutkeiwicz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, researches industrial agriculture. "Demand for meat is rising globally, but it's also completely unsustainable," he explained. He thinks that the concept of lab-grown meat, which can be produced with 96% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional meat, could be a real game-changer. "I think this is going to be the greatest revolution in the history of modern agriculture."
In recent years, Israel has been at the forefront of the burgeoning food tech industry, creating everything from algae-based falafel to apples that stay fresh for an entire year. Someone invented an earpiece that can help you lose weight, while another made a digital swivel stick that can monitor the sugar in your drinks. High-tech entrepreneur Jon Medved is one of Israel's leading high-tech venture capitalists, and has invested in several of the country's food tech startups. "We are risk takers here," he told From The Grapevine. "We're also delusional; have been since Abraham. I think that combination of risk, acceptance, and delusion makes for great entrepreneurial excitement."
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