PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel doesn’t like to invest in normal things. First he backed a libertarian island paradise, then it was paying kids not to go to college, and now it’s 3D-printed meat.
According to CNET, the Thiel Foundation announced it’s donating $350,000 to a start-up called Modern Meadow which is developing something called bio-printing. Its ultimate aim? To print you a nice juicy pork chop, minus all of the environmental consequences that go into growing livestock.
Scientists have already been experimenting with bio-printing in the field of regenerative medicine. The hope is that if you need a kidney transplant in the future, doctors will simply be able to print you a new one.
Apparently, growing meat is easier than growing organs. In Modern Meadow’s grant application to the Department of Agriculture, the company points out that “as meat is a post mortem tissue, the vascularization of the final product is less critical than in medical applications.” Mmm, I can smell that sizzling bio-printed post mortem tissue already.
The main demographics Modern Meadow is going after are vegetarians who don’t eat meat for ethical reasons and “culinary early-adopter consumers,” i.e. guys who eat things like the Pizzabon on a dare.
The company also plans on marketing its product to people with religious restrictions on eating meat. You know what that means: Kosher engineered comestible meat products. Move over, Hebrew National!
Researchers’ first step is to “fabricate 3D cellular sheets composed of porcine cells” — henceforth to be known as the other, other, other white meat — and mature those sheets into muscle tissue with electrical stimulation inside of a bioreactor.
If all goes as planned, the first thing on the menu will be “animal muscle strip” that can be minced and eaten in sausage, patty or nugget form, which, to be frank, doesn’t sound that much more unnatural than what’s normally put in your average sausage, patty or nugget.
While 3D-printed meat might not sound appetizing, Modern Meadow is trying to solve a very thorny issue: meat is very resource intensive and people in developing countries are acquiring a taste for it.
According to an earlier study by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan, 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted by an average European car over 155 miles.
Despite that, demand for meat is only going up. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (PDF), in 1961, the average person ate 48 pounds of beef; in 2007 that number grew to 88 pounds. If our global appetite for meat doesn’t die down, Modern Meadow’s 3D-printed pork might be more of a necessity than a novelty.