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Manufacturing Meat: 24th Century Style

Characters in Star Trek frequently complain that replicated food just simply is not the genuine article. Soon, we may understand what they are talking about.

Modern Meadow, a United States-based startup founded by father-son team Gabor and Andras Forgacs, is in the planning stages of a project that will provide meat, specifically beef, through additive manufacturing instead of the traditional raising and slaughtering cattle.

The principle is similar to that of biomedical 3D printing, according to professor Gabor Forgacs, who hails from the University of Missouri. Printing organs is a complicated business, as the mold has to be just right to fulfill the necessary bodily functions. Experiments using stem cells to replicate organs have yet to progress past the animal testing stage. "You have to be extremely careful, as a tissue or an organ are very complex structures.”

However, printing a slab of meat for a steak or a hamburger would be considerably simpler per Forgacs. "In the case of meat, if you think about a hamburger, its lateral dimensions are much bigger than its thickness so that makes the printing considerably simpler.” Like for biomedical printing, bioink cartridges place droplets to form living tissue that then forms naturally when the material is in place.

In this case, however, instead of the tissue living on, the tissue structure is denigrated slightly such that it cannot live. "It eventually will be killed - not killed in the sense of killing an animal but killing the tissue construct," says Prof Forgacs.

From the project, Modern Meadow has already attracted a $350,000 investment from Silicon Valley funder, PayPal co-founder, and Facebook early investor Peter Thiel.

These artificial burgers would not likely be available at your local deli anytime soon, as the current cost of manufacturing is around 200,000 pounds. However, as 3D printing technology spreads and improves, the price is expected to tumble, perhaps to the levels where everyone could have a personal 3D meat printing machine.

Once the process of printing a hamburger is tweaked and perfected, Modern Meadow will face another challenge in how to present these creations to the public. “We're still struggling with coming out with the right term for our meat,” said Forgacs. "You say 'engineered' or 'lab-made' meat, and the folks on the street probably are not going to be very happy to hear that."

By that point, they hopefully will have the good sense to call it a ‘replicator,’ making the Trekkies and naturalists alike happier.

Full story at BBC News 

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