Hungry astronauts rejoice! Aleph Farms, a company that grows beef steak from animal cells, has grown the first steaks aboard the International Space Station.
The Israeli biotech’s experiment is the first proof that meat can be grown in outer space. Aleph Farms created the meat using a 3D bioprinter developed by the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions. The experiment has now opened the door to a future where astronauts can grow their own meat on space exploration missions.
“Space is one of the most hostile and remote environments possible without resources available,” Didier Toubia, the CEO of Aleph Farms, told me. “We are showing that we can produce food without the reliance on local land and water resources.”
Aleph Farms is one of several biotechs aiming to change the way we produce meat. The company is developing a method to grow cow muscle cells into full steaks, requiring a fraction of the water, nutrients, and animal suffering that rearing cattle normally requires.
In addition to providing food in space, the technology could help to cut food waste back on Earth. Right now, food needs to be delivered to consumers using complicated transport networks, and much of the food perishes in the process.
“We are proving that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere, in any condition,” Toubia said. “We can potentially provide a powerful solution to produce the food closer to the population needing it, at the exact time it is needed.”
Aleph Farms is developing this technology with an €11M Series A round raised earlier this year. The company offered a select audience a taste of lab-grown steaks last year, and aims to release the product to a limited range of customers in up to four years.
While other biotechs such as Mosa Meat or Meatable are also working to produce lab-grown meat, Aleph Farms is the only one developing full steaks, rather than ground beef.
“The process of making a patty or a sausage from cells cultured outside of the animal’s body is challenging enough. Imagine how challenging it is to produce a whole-muscle steak,” Toubia told me.
Before it can become mainstream, lab-grown meat needs to overcome major challenges. For example, the cost of producing lab-grown meat needs to be low enough to compete with traditional producers. This requires scaling the technology up to an industrial scale, which can take time.
A range of other companies are also working to produce human food using cells. The Finnish biotech Solar Foods is working with the European Space Agency to produce a protein-rich powder from just water, light, and microbes, while the Scottish 3F BIO is developing fungi that turn plant sugars into protein, which could be an additive to lab-grown meat products if they reach the market.
Image from Shutterstock and Aleph Farms