Peter Thiel Bets Big On 3-D Printed Meat

The legendary VC’s investment means factory-assembled, cruelty-free, 100% natural-feeling leather may be coming as soon as next year. After that: Get ready for your first test-tube steak.

A world of animal-free animal products would be better for our carbon footprint and our rainforests, make us safe from drug-resistant bacteria and pink slime. Vegan meat is, improbably, a hot topic in Silicon Valley lately; Twitter’s co-founders recently made a large investment in a vegetable product that tastes impossibly close to real meat. While their investment whips chickeny goodness out of shredded plant proteins, a company called Modern Meadow is taking things a step wilder, culturing and then bioprinting ultralifelike meat and leather products directly from real animal cells. The company, which emerged from Singularity University’s incubator, today announced a six-figure seed investment from Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs, dedicated to supporting early stage science, putting lab-printed meat that much closer to your hungry mouth.

Chief scientist Gabor Forgacs (who appeared on Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business list in 2010) founded a company called Organovo, a startup specializing in 3-D printed, bioengineered organs. As his son, Modern Meadow co-founder and CEO Andras Forgacs, explains, this new venture is, ahem, a natural outgrowth of that one. "The idea struck us that if we can make medical-grade tissues that are good enough for drug companies, good enough for patients, then certainly we can find other applications for tissue engineering." Forgacs does seem to understand how terrifying that sounds, which is why his startup has been relatively press-shy until the announcement this morning, and also why they’re starting with wearable, not edible, products. Still, he argues that cell culturing for food is as old as, well, culture itself:

"Whether you’re brewing beer or making yogurt, you’re really doing cell culture," he says. In this case, though, the process involves biopsying a living animal (a relatively harmless procedure), isolating the desired cells, growing large numbers of them, and preparing them into cell aggregates—spheres of tens of thousands of cells. These aggregates can then become the raw material for more industrial processes. In the case of complete organs, that process is something like 3-D printing. For calfskin—the product that Modern Meadow intends to turn out by the end of the year—it would resemble something more like regular printing or weaving. The end result will be a hairless, pre-tanned, soft, smooth, chemical- and waste-free material in any color or pattern imaginable—Komodo dragon skin purse, anyone?—ready for guilt-free accessorizing.

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  • Gnowxela

    Next up, animals designed to actually want to be eaten and can tell you so in no uncertain terns, sighing with disdain when you get creeped out and order the green salad.

  • Numa

    This has been done before and it is called spam. No one buys it except starving students and toothless zombies. Eat at your own risk. Why is that all these supposed intelligent people always believe that they know what is good for the world and that all humans besides them are not intelligent enough to know what is rubbish. Just another genetic modified congealed slime cake. In the end they are making dog food. which is fair enough for dogs.

  • DKen0

    They will be worse for health. Like the sugary drinks invented by food industry in the last 100+ years. But don't worry, there will be plenty of money spent on ads and endorsements that will make you feel like you are cool and advanced because you are consuming the crap. Consumers are like sheep - asking to be fleeced and food industry will gladly oblige.

  • Scott Byorum

    It's as interesting as it is horrifying as it is unbelievable.  Would you eat a steak that tasted, felt, and looked like a steak, essentially because it is, that was never part of a living creature.  What are the implications for vegetarianism?  I could see this as a positive seachange in our use of animals... but still, it's science fiction meeting present reality... and it's somewhat terrifying.  I also see how we could grow and replace organs.  How long could lifetimes be extended?  What are the impacts of that on world resources?  War?  Can of worms or Pandora's Box?