For the first time in history, a piece of meat has been successfully grown in a lab on the International Space Station (ISS). This breakthrough could revolutionise the food industry towards more energy efficient methods for providing meat in the future.
Scientists have cultured artery cells derived from cattle, known as bovine cells, on board the ISS. The lab-grown “space-beef” was created by a team of Israeli and Russian scientists. They achieved this feat 248-miles above the Earth's surface under zero-gravity conditions. The 3D-bioprinted meat is “slaughter-free”, meaning no animals were sacrificed in the making of the product.
It was announced on 7th October 2019 by the Israeli food company Aleph Farms that the experiment was successful. The company is currently working on cultivating entire pieces of edible meat out of just a few cells. Aleph Farms collaborated with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions and two US-based food companies to conduct the experiment.
To grow pieces of meat from single cells, the scientists mimicked a cow’s natural muscle-tissue regeneration process. By using cells which were harvested back on Earth, the team mixed cow biomaterial with growth chemicals and a ‘bioink’ to print a layered structure of muscle tissue. 3D bioprinting works differently in space which enables tissues to be cultured faster. Due to zero-gravity, printing allows tissues to be created without any intermediate support.
Researchers believe the breakthrough could advance the food industry towards a less environmentally impactful future. Intensive beef farms hold an environment stigma due to their high carbon footprint and water demand. Furthermore, lab-grown meat may provide solutions for people living in space who wish to eat meat.
Aleph Farms hopes this could be a step forward in tackling climate change. The CEO of Aleph Farms, Didier Toubia, said: “We are working on a new method to produce the same meat, but in a way that uses less than half of the greenhouse gases.
“In space, we don’t have 10,000 or 15,000 litres of water available to produce 1kg of beef.
“We are proving that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere, in any condition.”
The company aims to make cultivated beef steaks available on Earth through "bio-farms" in the near future. However, the UK currently leads efforts to advance lab-grown meat alternatives. Although not yet for sale, the UK aims to get products on supermarket shelves by 2025.