3D printed meat could soon be cheap and tasty enough to win

first_imgThe next time you’re about to bite into a hamburger, take a moment to consider the resources that went into making it. In a recent Solve for X talk, Andras Forgacs laid out all the statistics, and explained how tantalizingly close we are to a more sustainable method of meat production. Basically, humanity may soon be 3D printing meat instead of growing it in an animal.Forgacs starts by explaining just how costly a single quarter-pound beef patty is to produce. For that one serving, 6.7lbs of grains, 600 gallons of water, and 75 square feet of grazing land were used. Now multiply that by 1000 to find your (approximate) impact — the average American eats over 220lbs of meat each year. Additionally, at least 18% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to meat production. All this for one burger?As economic opportunities continue to lift populations around the world into the middle class, demand for meat is rising. With 7 billion people on the planet, we are sustained by 60 billion land animals. When the population hits 9 billion somewhere around 2050 we would need 100 billion land animals. That would be ecologically devastating, so something has to change.Advances in bioengineering have been able to produce meat analogs, but the process has always been stupendously expensive, and the results were only passable. It turns out that it’s actually very difficult to match the taste and texture of animal muscle tissue by growing cells in the lab. The marbling of fats and connective tissue is integral to the experience of eating a burger.Applying 3D printing to artificial meats could be the answer, according to Forgacs. If you take tissue engineering and add in some 3D printing, you get the burgeoning field of bioprinting. Researchers are working with cell aggregates as the medium in bioprinting (as opposed to plastics in regular 3D printing). Layer after layer of cells can be laid down to more closely resemble the genuine article. Researchers can basically build a block of muscle that never lived.So maybe it’s going to be possible to make artificial meat that feels and tastes like the real deal, but what about cost? Well, Forgacs concedes that it does still cost a few thousand dollars to make a pound of meat in the lab. Unless you’re seeking the most expensive burger in the world, that’s no good. Still, the cost of real meat is inevitably going up and the printed stuff will become cheaper as economies of scale kick in. The process right now is taking place in a research lab, not a large production facility.Printed meats will eventually become cost-competitive with the dead animal kind. Until then, we may all have to take a closer look at what we’re eating.last_img read more