Modern Meadow plans on producing lab-grown leather

Antonio Pasolini: For many people, meat and leather are an ethical and environmental nightmare, causing misery to billions of animals and wreaking havoc on the planet’s ecosystems. While mankind is unlikely to turn entirely vegan in the next generation, a more humane and cleaner type of leather could become available in the near future (and meat a few years later) thanks to the development of an in-vitro version of the material being developed by Modern Meadow.

The company’s founder and CEO Andras Forgacs recently revealed to Txchnologist, a GE-sponsored technology online magazine, that Modern Meadow has focused on leather because it is a simpler structure than meat, although he’s also working on the latter (and he’s not alone there). Modern Meadow’s research is being supported with funding from PayPal’s co-founder Peter Thiel via Breakout Labs, which supports early-stage new technologies.

In reality, the process would not be completely animal-free, since it would start with a puncture biopsy of an animal. The extracted cells would be isolated and possibly genetically modified (not for meat, though). They would then be reproduced by the billions in a bioreactor and centrifuged to eliminate the agent that supports cell growth. Next, they would be lumped together to create aggregated spheres of cells, which would be then layered and fused together in a process called bioassembly.

The layered and fused cells would subsequently be placed in a bioreactor to mature, where they would be fed for a few weeks. The skin tissue would evolve into hide, and muscle and fat would be harvested for food. Here comes the good news for environmentalists: because the hide would not have hair or a tough outer skin, the tanning process would be shorter and require fewer chemicals.

Andras said Modern Meadow’s lab leather is still in the development phase and his team will be spending the next two years perfecting processes and materials. While in-vitro meat could take as long as a decade to become a commercial reality, fully-fledged lab-grown leather production could be ready for its close-up in as little as five years.

He noted that the challenges are related to engineering, as the technology itself is mature. He has the experience to back up his claim. Organovo pioneered the 3D bioprinting of organs for a range of purposes, from drug testing to transplantation.

Back in August when the funding was announced, Breakout Lab’s executive director Lindy Fishburne said that they’d chosen Modern Meadow as grant recipients because the company combines “regenerative medicine with 3D printing to imagine an economic and compassionate solution to a global problem.”

And it’s a massive problem.

Livestock accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, besides polluting waterways, causing soil erosion and being the main driver of deforestation of the Amazon forest, not to mention the immense suffering it causes to animals. Leather is also the source of massive pollution by chemicals, especially in India, and the production cycle involves a great deal of waste.

Global demand for meat is expected to double by 2050 and considering that currently we farm, feed, transport and slaughter around 70 billion land animals per year, the topic has gained momentum amongst the international environmental community. True, in-vitro meat and leather have an ecological footprint as well, but it’s insignificant compared with the devastation caused by livestock. And there's no slaughtering involved.


I'm kinda sick of this mentality that somehow using animals for food or clothing is ethically unsound. Frankly, the idea of using lab-grown meat as food for human consumption is sketchy and more than a little worrying for human health. Life survives by killing and consuming other life- that's why it's called the cycle of life, and you're not avoiding the death of another organism by avoiding meat in your diet. I'm all for ending factory farms, and improving the living conditions of the animals in our farms, but processed, genetically engineered, and otherwise unnatural food may have long term health implications that we haven't even begun to understand.

Your reply implies that synthetic food cannot be just as good as the natural thing.
Of course it can.
The problem is that for the moment, we don't do things like that because we don't live in a system that encourages such a way of doing things - ergo, most of the genetically engineered crops and processed foods are actually BAD for our health (taking into account the amount of chemicals and drugs they pump into the food, lowering its nutritional value).
Besides, processed and genetically engineered foods are nothing more than 'cheap' methods of food cultivation using outdated agriculture.
We had the capacity to grow organic food without chemicals, pesticides or GMO in vertical farms, up to 5x faster in fully automated vertical farms (producing even MORE nutritious foods by simply having plants fight against gravity instead of keeping them stationary) for decades.

We already have the ability to synthesize meat without killing animals... and it would be just as nutritious and tasty as the 'real deal'.

Now... what would be the point?
The point would be for Humans to grow out of their infancy and minimize their footprint on this planet (instead of wasting huge portions of land and effectively killing the ecosystem).

Whats the point of killing livestock and subjucating animals to horrifying conditions only to be killed by the millions for our own 'consumption' when we had the capacity to STOP that kind of stupidity for some time now?

I understand that humanity managed to survive by hunting other animals and consuming them for food (plus using them for other purposes), but this kind of practice is completely unnecessary in this day and age in the face of our technological capacity to do things 'the right way' (instead of doing completely opposite for the purpose of furthering profits).
We can live on this planet in vast abundance with all of our needs met and most our wants too (in abundance no less)... without killing the ecosystem of the planet we (among other things) depend on.

Allowing humans to live and interact with anything changes the way it evolves- ergo ether manage resources properly (wildlife is a resource too, which involves hunting & killing) or leave Earth so you don't 'unbalance' the system.

My point is that the practice of 'killing wildlife'(along with contamination of our environment) has been unnecessary for some time now - along with relatively barbaric given the (viable, healthy and nutritious) technological alternatives at our disposal.

I'm not saying we should completely disconnect ourselves from interacting with our environment (and in that regard... certain disruption to the Earth is unavoidable due to our presence and increased technology), but we should do whatever we can to minimize our footprint while enjoying the ecosystem we live in (and we had the ability to do that for a long time).