Andras Forgacs is the CEO of Modern Meadow, a company that's seeking to mass produce bioengineered meat that comes out of a bioprinter. Why? Because commercial meat production is a highly resource-intensive process, and Modern Meadow argues that their product is a more sustainable way to provide protein.
While Forgacs and co. have been at this for some time—below is a video of him eating Modern Meadow's early product in front of a TED audience in 2011—last week he submitted himself to a Reddit AMA ("ask me anything") session, clearing up some things I'd been confused about. Here are some excerpts:
Q:What is the input, what is the output ? Explain like I am five, for 1 kg of meat , what is needed?
The input are largely animal cells (muscle, fat and a couple other types - taken from a donor animal through a biopsy) and cell culture media (a soup in which the cells grow made of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, salts, sugars) and then energy to run the process. Output is muscle tissue that is then matured/conditioned until it is processed into meat products.
Q: Are the input animal cells consistent with the output? Or will there be a blending of pig/cow/horse etc to create "beef"?
A: No blending of different species. Pig stays pig. Cow stays cow. Etc. We are using multiple cell types from each animal but staying with the same animal. In fact, an advantage of this approach is that it can ensure purity. Because we control the inputs and have such a tight process, we know the exact ingredients of every batch. No mystery meat surprises like the recent one from the UK.
In the aforementioned video, Forgacs spends roughly the first half explaining why bioprinted meat is a good idea, and roughly the second half whipping up a snack in a raclette, then tosses it down the hatch:
Now whether you're grossed out by this or not, you've gotta be wondering: How does it taste? Writes Forgacs,
I've tasted it as have my colleagues. We've only been able to have small bites since we're still working on getting the process right.
I cooked some pieces in olive oil and ate some with and without salt and pepper. Not bad. The taste is good but not yet fully like meat. We have yet to get the fat content right and other elements that influence taste. This process will be iterative and involve us working closely with our consulting chefs.
While I fully understand Modern Meadow's sustainability rationale for pursuing their goal, I'm a little squeamish about eating the stuff. But I can definitely get behind the company's other goal: They hope to successfully print leather, which would be pretty awesome.