I’ll just print me a steak …

Traditional meat exporters will need to consider future protein competition coming from outside the box in the future, as new technology is attracting innovation funding around the world.

One such piece of research, by a US company called Modern Meadow, has this week gained between US$250,000-300,000 for a tissue engineering project. Modern Meadow is said to be developing a fundamentally new approach to meat and leather production, “which is based on the latest advances in tissue engineering and causes no harm to animals.”

The news was announced by the US-based Thiel Foundation, set up by one of the founders of PayPal Peter Thiel. It was one of three new grants, awarded through its Breakout Labs programme. This is a revolutionary revolving fund to promote innovation in science and technology. The two other grants went to medical and therapeutic innovations.

According to Breakout, Modern Meadow co-founders Gabor and Andras Forgas respectively invented and helped to commercialise bio-printing, a technology that builds tissues and organ structures based on the computer-controlled delivery of cells in three dimensions. The two previously co-founded Oganovo,a a San Diego-based regenerative medicine company which applies bio-printing to a range of medical applications including drug discovery, drug testing and ultimately transplant tissues. They plan to use the Breakout Labs funding to apply the latest advances in tissue engineering beyond medicine to produce novel consumer biomaterials, including an edible cultured meat prototype that can provide a humane and sustainable source of animal protein to consumers around the world.

“Breakout Labs is a much-needed source of funding and support for emerging technologies like ours,” says Andras Forgacs. “Investors across the board have become more risk-averse and yet early funding is critical to enable truly innovative ideas.”

Modern Meadow, based in Missouri, is combining regenerative medicine with 3D printing to imagine an economic and compassionate solution to a global problem, says Lindy Fisbhurne, Breakout Labs’ executive director. “We hope our support will help propel them through the early stage of their development so they can turn their inspired vision to reality.”

Launched in November 2011, Breakout Labs provides teams of researchers in early-stage companies with the means to pursue their most radical goals in science and technology. To date, the fund has awarded a total of nine grants, of up to $350,000 each. Breakout Labs accepts and funds proposals on a rolling basis.

Although very early days as yet, the concept supported by the fund could bring printing your own steak for the barbie nearer to reality, but just don’t expect it in the near future.

The Modern Meadow innovation is not alone in attempting to solve the world’s future protein needs. New Zealand’s Riddet Institute is also working on the joint PROTEOS project with its counterpart Wageningen University in The Netherlands, “formulating novel solutions that involve extending and using more effectively future animal-based protein sources, transforming the protein supply chain” – essentially growing meat in the laboratory. Project plans involving staff from both organisations will be finalised this year.




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