Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nom Nom: 3D Printed Meat

It was recently announced that Peter Thiel, one of PayPal's co-founders, has awarded money to a fledgling company that is trying to change how we think about meat. Thiel is giving money to Modern Meadow through one of his philanthropic organizations, Breakout Labs. The idea is that through 3D printing we can create meat from synthetic proteins that will not require all of the negative externalities of raising livestock.

Here is a technical description from their report to the USDA:

"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 types....We anticipate that this Phase I application will result in macroscopic (~2cm x 1cm x 0.5mm) edible prototypes and will demonstrate that bio-printing-based in vitro meat production is feasible, economically viable and environmentally practical."

There are many issues that will arise before we start getting steak shaped into Mickey Mouse ears, but whether we consider it ethical or not I feel that this advancement is inevitable. It may not take off in America, but much like the Green Revolution changed agriculture, this technology will allow for the ability to increase the amount of meat in the developing world. Countries like China will need to develop ways of producing the meat necessary to feed their ever growing population and this may be just the answer. The fact that the population in the developing world is growing faster than the rest of the world is one thing, but on top of that a World Health Organization report found that more developed countries consume more meat so this problem could be exaggerated even more.

This project has a long way to go, but there will be many issues that come with synthetic meat. I have some questions for my readers.

Would you eat 3D printed meat? (Spoiler: I would, but I would require it be printed into fun shapes)

If you are vegan, would you eat meat that was printed?

If you only eat kosher meat, how would you kasher 3D printed meat?