Extraterrestial steaks

2020-04-07

Are steaks from space about to land on our plates? Will pork chops make it to the menu of future settlers on Mars? And all that without having to send cows and pigs to space?

An exceptional 3D-printer has recently arrived on the International Space Station (ISS) that currently travels in orbit around the Earth. Its purpose is not just printing three-dimensional objects from hot plastic, but producing (or rather printing)…tissues.

Organ.Aut printer (picture: 3D Bioprinting Solutions)

The Organ.Aut printer has been developed by a Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions. The printer replicates and arranges living cells for various types of tissues, including muscle tissue (meat). It was Organ.Aut that produced the first beef “steak” made in space.

First “steak” grown in space (picture: 3D Bioprinting Solutions)

The steak development process began on Earth, where cells were extracted from a cow through a biopsy. Then the cells were put in a special, nutrient-rich “broth”, a medium with a formula imitating conditions in the cow’s body. Locked in laboratory vials, the materials were taken onboard the Sojuz spacecraft that delivered them to the International Space Station.

On the orbit, the materials were placed in a 3D bioprinter. It uses magnetic levitation in gravity-free environment, allowing three-dimensional assembly of tissues. Therefore, the object is not constructed layer by layer like in classic 3D bioprinters, but volumetrically, from all sides at the same time. The 3D printer allowed imitation of the structure and texture of conventional meat.

The tissues grew to make a thin piece of meat.

“The taste is good and we are close, but we still have a bit more work to do to make it taste 100% like conventional beef,” said Didier Toubia, CEO of an Izreali company Aleph Farms that took part in the experiment.

The cultured “steaks” were not served to astronauts (yet); they were sent back to Earth on 3 October 2019.

3D bioprinters have been tested to produce not only beef, but also fish and rabbit meat.

First cultured meat grown out of bovine living cells was produced by a Dutch scientist Mark Post in 2013. The piece was worth as much as EUR 250 thousand. Today, the costs dropped to USD 50, and will continue dropping with taking the process from labs to production plants. A number of companies, including Mosa Meats, Memphis Meat (partially owned by largest meat market players), Meatable, or the mentioned Aleph Farms, are working on a suitable technology.

Their objective is to commercialize cultured, slaughter-free meat. The plan is expected to come into life within a few years.