Cellular agriculture

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Cellular agriculture is an interdisciplinary branch of science combining biology and engineering, focused on the production of agriculture products from cell cultures.[1]

Cellular agriculture combines disciplines such as biotechnology, tissue engineering, molecular biology, and synthetic biology to design new methods of producing proteins, fats, and tissues that would otherwise come from traditional agriculture.[1]

Cellular agriculture most often refers to the creation of animal products such as meat, milk, and eggs, produced in cell culture rather than raising and slaughtering farmed livestock.[2] The most well known cellular agriculture concept is cultured meat.

History[edit]

Although cellular agriculture is a nascent scientific discipline, cellular agriculture products were first commercialized in the early 20th century with insulin and rennet.[3]

In 1922, Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and James Collip treated the first diabetic patient with an insulin injection, which was originally collected from the ground-up pancreases of pigs or cattle.[4] In 1978, Arthur Riggs, Keiichi Itakura, and Herbert Boyer inserted the gene carrying the blueprints for human insulin into an E. coli bacteria, prompting the bacteria to make insulin identical to the insulin made by humans.[5] The vast majority of insulin currently used worldwide is now biosynthetic recombinant "human" insulin engineered by yeast or bacteria.[6]

On March 24, 1990, the FDA approved a bacteria that had been genetically engineered to produce rennet, making it the first genetically engineered product for food.[7] Rennet is a mixture of enzymes that turns milk into curds and whey in cheesemaking. Traditionally, rennet is extracted from the inner lining of the fourth stomach of calves. Today, the majority of cheesemaking uses rennet enzymes from genetically engineered bacteria, fungi, or yeasts because it is more pure and consistent and less expensive than animal-derived rennet.[8]

Winston Churchill also predicted the advent of a mainstream cellular agriculture paradigm of meat production in his 1931 essay, Fifty Years Hence.

"Fifty years hence...we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."[9]

In 2004, Jason Matheny founded New Harvest which was first a cultured meat advocacy organization but whose mission is now to "accelerate breakthroughs in cellular agriculture."[10] New Harvest is the only organization focused exclusively on advancing the field of cellular agriculture, and are funding the first cellular agriculture PhD at Tufts University.[11]

Since 2014, IndieBio, a synthetic biology accelerator in San Francisco, has incubated several cellular agriculture startups, hosting Muufri (making milk from cell culture), Clara Foods (making egg whites from cell culture), Gelzen (making gelatin from bacteria and yeast), Afineur (making cultured coffee beans) and Pembient (biofabricating rhino horn). Muufri and Clara Foods were both launched by New Harvest.

In 2015, Mercy for Animals created a sister organization called Good Food Institute, which promotes cellular agriculture meat and dairy alternatives in addition to plant-based options.[12]

In July 13, 2016, New Harvest hosted the world's first international conference on cellular agriculture in San Francisco, California.[10] The day after the conference, New Harvest hosted the first closed-door workshop for industry, academic and government stakeholders in cellular agriculture.[13]

Research tools[edit]

Several key research tools are at the foundation of research in cellular agriculture.

Cell lines[edit]

A fundamental missing piece in the advancement of cultured meat is the availability of the appropriate cellular materials. While some methods and protocols from human and mouse cell culture may apply to agricultural cellular materials, it has become clear that most do not. This is evidenced by the fact that established protocols for creating human and mouse embryonic stem cells have not succeeded in establishing ungulate embryonic stem cell lines.[14][15][16]

The ideal criteria for cell lines for the purpose of cultured meat production include: immortality, high proliferative ability, surface independence, serum independence, and tissue-forming ability. The specific cell types most suitable for cellular agriculture are likely to differ from species to species.[17][18]

Growth media[edit]

Today the status quo for growing animal tissue in culture involves the use of fetal bovine serum (FBS). FBS is a blood product extracted from fetal calves. This product supplies cells with nutrients and stimulating growth factors, but is unsustainable and resource-heavy to produce, with large batch-to-batch variation.[19]

After the creation of the cell lines, efforts to remove serum from the growth media are key to the advancement of cellular agriculture as fetal bovine serum has been the target of most criticisms of cellular agriculture and cultured meat production. It is likely that two different media formulations will be required for each cell type: a proliferation media, for growth, and a differentiation media, for maturation.[20]

Scaling technologies[edit]

As biotechnological processes are scaled, experiments start to become increasingly expensive, as bioreactors of increasing volume will have to be created. Each increase in size will require a re-optimization of various parameters such as unit operations, fluid dynamics, mass transfer and reaction kinetics.

Scaffold materials[edit]

For cells to form tissue, it is helpful for a material scaffold to be added to provide structure. Scaffolds are crucial for cells to form tissues larger than 100 µm across. An ideal scaffold must be non-toxic for the cells, edible, and allow for the flow of nutrients and oxygen. It must also be cheap and easy to produce on a large scale without the need for animals.

3D tissue systems[edit]

The final phase for creating cultured meat involves bringing together all the previous pieces of research to create large (>100 µm in diameter) pieces of tissue that can be made of mass-produced cells without the need of serum, where the scaffold is suitable for cells and humans.

Applications[edit]

Cellular agriculture is a scientific field that designs new mechanisms to produce existing agriculture products. While the majority of discussion has been around food applications, particular cultured meat, cellular agriculture can be used to create any kind of agricultural product, including those that never involved animals to begin with, like Gingko Biowork's fragrances.

Over the last several years, several cellular agriculture start-ups have been created applying cellular agriculture to make a number of agricultural products and consumables.

Meat[edit]

  • Impossible Foods
    In the Impossible Burger produced by Impossible Foods, the heme that gives the burger its bloody look and taste is produced by taking the soybean gene that encodes the heme protein and transferring it to yeast.[21]
  • SuperMeat
    SuperMeat is an Israeli startup that launched an Indiegogo campaign in 2016 to create cultured chicken meat.[22][23]
  • Memphis Meats
    Memphis Meats is a United States startup that made a prototype of a cultured meatball in 2016.[24][25]
  • Mosa Meat
    Mosa Meat is a Dutch startup that is an outgrowth of Mark Post's cultured burger, which was tasted in London in 2013.[26]
  • Shojinmeat Project[27]
    Shojinmeat Project is a Japanese biohacker community developing cultured meat.
  • Balletic Foods[28]
    Balletic Foods is clean meat technology startup based in Silicon Valley, California.
  • Aleph Farms[29]
    Aleph Farms offers a “clean meat” without the need to grow and kill a cow to eat it.

Milk[edit]

  • Muufri
    Muufri is a San Francisco-based startup that started as the New Harvest Dairy Project and was incubated by IndieBio in 2014. Muufri is making milk from yeast instead of cows.[30][31] Muufri changed its name to "Perfect Day" in August 2016.[32]

Eggs[edit]

  • Clara Foods
    Clara Foods is a San Francisco-based startup that started as the New Harvest Egg Project and was incubated by IndieBio in 2015. Clara Foods is making egg whites from yeast instead of eggs.[33]

Gelatin[edit]

  • Geltor
    Geltor is a San Francisco-based startup that was incubated by IndieBio in 2015. Geltor is developing a proprietary protein production platform that uses bacteria and yeast to produce gelatin.[34][35]

Coffee[edit]

  • Afineur
    Afineur is a Brooklyn-based startup using biotechnology and smart fermentations to improve the nutritional profile and taste of plant based food, starting with craft coffee.[36]

Horseshoe Crab Blood[edit]

  • Sothic Bioscience
    Sothic Bioscience is a Cork-based startup incubated by IndieBio in 2015. Sothic Bioscience is building a platform for biosynthetic horseshoe crab blood production. Horseshoe crab blood contains limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), which is the gold standard in validating any medical equipment and medication.[37][38]

Fish[edit]

  • Finless Foods
    Finless Foods is an early-stage biotechnology company whose mission is to develop and mass manufacture pioneering marine animal food products for human consumption.[39]
  • Wild Type
    Wild Type is a San Francisco-based and VC backed company focused on creating cultured meat to address items such as climate change, food security, and health.[40][41]

Fragrances[edit]

  • Gingko Bioworks
    Gingko Bioworks is a Boston-based organism design company culturing fragrances and designing custom microbes.[42]

Silk[edit]

  • Spiber
    Spiber is a Japanese-based company decoding the gene responsible for the production of fibroin in spiders and then bioengineering bacteria with recombinant DNA to produce the protein, which they then spin into their artificial silk.[43][44]
  • Bolt Threads
    Bolt Thread is a California-based company creating engineered silk fibers based on proteins found in spider silk that can be produced at commercial scale. Bolt examines the DNA of spiders and then replicates those genetic sequences in other ingredients to create a similar silk fiber. Bolt’s silk is made primarily of sugar, water, salts, and yeast, which combined forms a liquid silk protein. Through a process called wet spinning, this liquid is spun into fiber, similar to the way fibers like acrylic and rayon are made.[45][46]

Leather[edit]

  • Modern Meadow
    Modern Meadow is a Brooklyn-based startup growing collagen, a protein you find in animal skin, to make biofabricated leather.[47]

Pet Food[edit]

Media and Publications[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World is a book about cellular agriculture written by animal activist Paul Shapiro (author). The book reviews startup companies that are currently working towards mass-producing cellular agriculture products.[48][49][50]

Podcasts[edit]

  • Cultured Meat and Future Food is a podcast about clean meat and future food technologies hosted by Alex Shirazi, a mobile User Experience Designer based in Menlo Park, California, whose current projects focus around retail technology. The podcast features interviews with industry professionals from startups, investors, and non-profits working on cellular agriculture.[51][52]

Current Research[edit]

3D Vascularized Muscle Tissue at Kings College[53][edit]

Cultured Chicken and Turkey at North Carolina State University[54][edit]

Academic Programs[edit]

New Harvest Cultured Tissue Fellowship at Tufts University[edit]

A joint program between New Harvest and the Tissue Engineering Research Center (TERC), an NIH-supported initiative established in 2004 to advance tissue engineering. The fellowship program offers funding for Masters and PhD students at Tufts university who are interested in bioengineering tunable structures, mechanics, and biology into 3D tissue systems related to their utility as foods.[55]

Conferences[edit]

New Harvest Conference[56][edit]

New Harvest brings together pioneers in the cellular agriculture and new, interested parties from industry and academia to share relevant learnings for cellular agriculture's path moving forward.

Good Food Conference[57][edit]

The inaugural GFI conference is an event focused on accelerating the commercialization of plant-based and clean meat.

Cultured Meat Symposium[58][edit]

The Cultured Meat Symposium is a conference held in Silicon Valley highlighting top industry insights of the clean meat revolution.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

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