3D Printed Meat for Dinner: Peter Thiel Backs Bioprinting Startup
Peter Thiel, the entrepreneur-investor turned billionaire who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, is investing in 3D printing again. Last time we covered Thiel, he was backing a 3D printing entrepreneur in his 20 under 20 Thiel Fellows program. This time, Thiel is looking to shake up the food industry through an investment in a startup called Modern Meadow.
Modern Meadow is using a technique called bioprinting to produce meat that is more environmentally-friendly than traditional raised livestock.
“If you look at the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger, it is an environmental train wreck,” Modern Meadow co-founder Andras Forgacs told CNET.
“Modern Meadow is combining regenerative medicine with 3D printing to imagine an economic and compassionate solution to a global problem,” said Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, a project of the Thiel Foundation. “We hope our support will help propel them through the early stage of their development, so they can turn their inspired vision into reality.”
Reports suggest that Modern Meadow has raised over $250,000 from the Thiel Foundation.
Below is an excerpt from Modern Meadow’s Department of Agriculture grant application, which explains their project in more detail.
Present farm and industrial meat production methods and technologies have a number of associated problems including health risks (infectious animal diseases, nutrition-related diseases), resource intensity (land, water, energy), damage to environment (green house gas emission, erosion, biodiversity loss) and ethical challenges (animal welfare). With increasing worldwide demand for meat, it is expected that some of these problems will become critical. The objective of this proposal is to develop a fundamentally new approach to edible meat production. The approach is based on bio-printing, a novel tissue engineering technology. In this technology, conveniently prepared multicellular aggregates (the bio-ink particles) are delivered into a biocompatible support structure according to a design template (compatible with the shape of the desired biological construct) by a computer-controlled delivery device (the bio-printer). Biological assemblies form after deposition of the discrete bio-ink particles, through morphogenetic processes akin to those evident in early embryonic development, such as cell sorting and tissue fusion. The resulting construct is transferred to special purpose bioreactor for further maintenance and maturation to make it suitable for use (e.g. implantation in medical applications). 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. Printing ensures consistent shape, while post-printing structure formation and maturation in the bioreactor facilitates conditioning. As meat is a post mortem tissue, the vascularization of the final product is less critical than in medical applications (although important for taste an objective to be further pursued in Phase II). Overall, this process allows for greater structural precision than other approaches and higher throughput for eventual scaling to industrial production. We anticipate that this Phase I application will result in a macroscopic size (~2 cm x 1 cm x 0.5 mm) edible prototype and will demonstrate that bio-printing-based in vitro meat production is feasible, economically viable and environmentally practical. Successful in vitro meat engineering addresses a number of societal needs, thus the commercialization of the method has high market potential. The consumer acceptance of such products may not be without challenges. We expect it will first appeal to culinary early-adopter consumers and the segment of the vegetarian community that rejects meat for ethical reasons. With reduction in price, it can reach the masses with religious restrictions on meat consumption (people restricted to Hindu, Kosher, Halal diets) and finally populations with limited access to safe meat production.
Livestock photo by Mr. T in DC used under Creative Commons license.