Cellular agriculture went to a new frontier. Outer space.
This week, Aleph Farms announced that they successfully grew the first piece of cell-based meat in outer space on the International Space Station. 248 miles above earth.
Based in Israel, Aleph Farms is a startup that uses cellular agriculture to grow cell-based meat, specifically steak. By growing cells that become meat from an animal, Aleph Farms can make the same meat. Without requiring the animal.
The first cell-based meat sample grown in outer space. Without requiring any animals.
The successful project was a collaboration between Aleph Farms, 3D Bioprinting Solutions, Finless Foods, and Meal Source Technologies.
Cellular agriculture is the field of producing livestock agricultural products directly from cell cultures instead of using animals. Instead of raising, for example, a cow from birth for milk and meat, cellular agriculture presents an alternative way to get the same product without all of the issues associated with raising livestock.
To grow cell-based meat, a sample of cells is taken from the animal of interest. These cells are grown in a cell culture media formulation to become meat. The cell culture media and how the cells grow are important aspects in this process, because they help the cells become the same meat that comes directly from animals.
Aleph Farms' cell-based steak
Besides the incredible fact that it is possible to grow meat and other products directly from cells, cellular agriculture will be critical for the future of food. Compared to conventional livestock agriculture, cellular agriculture provides a more sustainable way to produce animal products to meet the growing demand for them.
Without requiring animals, cellular agriculture could, in theory, produce animal products anywhere. Even in outer space.
The recent cell-based meat project is not the first time that cellular agriculture in space has been explored. In fact, the field's (brief) history with space is absolutely critical to where the field is today.
Between 1999 and 2002, NASA sponsored researchers to explore the idea of developing cell-cultured meat for long voyages. By growing foods like meat directly on spaceships, astronauts would no longer need to take large supplies of food with them, freeing supply space for other essentials for the long journeys. They could simply grow their own food as they traveled. In 2002, the NASA researchers published their paper about their early experiments using goldfish cells to grow cell-cultured meat. That paper changed everything for the future of food.
Rocosmos spacecraft launch
Jason Matheny read about NASA’s experiments and saw that this idea could be a sustainable way to produce meat on earth. In 2004, Matheny founded New Harvest, the first nonprofit dedicated to advancing cellular agriculture. Since then, New Harvest has grown the field by supporting researchers and startups as well as by organizing the first conference dedicated to cellular agriculture. The organization has taken cellular agriculture from an idea to being a viable future of food. On earth and in space.
The successful experiment was a joint project between Aleph Farms, 3D Bioprinting Solutions, Meal Source Technologies, and Finless Foods. 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Russian company exploring innovative uses for bioprinters, led the experiment as they developed the 3D bioprinter on the Russian segment of the International Space Station. 3D Bioprinting Solutions’ bioprinter can assemble small-scale muscle tissue under micro-gravity conditions.
Using this technology, Aleph Farms provided the bovine cell culture sample that became the first cell-based beef grown on the International Space Station. In outer space.
Finless Foods and Meal Source Technologies also provided cell culture samples to grow in outer space. When tested, Finless Foods will be the first company to grow cell-based seafood in space and on earth. Meal Source Technologies is a newly founded subsidiary of Vivax Bio focused on bioprinting applications in cellular agriculture.
The first piece of space cell-based meat was brought down to earth by the first UAE astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, on the Soyuz MS-12 descent module. Aleph Farms will now study how their cell-based meat grew in space compared to their meats on earth.
Didier Toubia, the co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, explained what their experiment means for food sustainability and food security. “In space, we don’t have 10,000 or 15,000 liters (3,962.58 gallon) of water available to produce one kilogram of beef. This joint experiment marks a significant first step toward achieving our vision to ensure food security for generations to come, while preserving our natural resources.”
50 years ago, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. 20 years ago, NASA first funded research about growing meat outside of animals for astronauts in space. Now, companies like Aleph Farms have shown it is possible to grow cell-based meat in outer space. And on earth.
With many obstacles and scaling hurdles to overcome, including regulation, there is still some time before cellular agriculture becomes the future of food. Yet, considering how the field has moved from an idea to the lab to space in 20 years, where will cellular agriculture be in 50 years? We can only imagine.