Interstellar Cuisine: One company’s mission to grow meat on the International Space Station – Screen Shot
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Interstellar Cuisine: One company’s mission to grow meat on the International Space Station

With climate change continuing its ferocious impact on the planet, a number of new tech solutions have been brought to the table—literally. Food has been at the forefront of the conversation surrounding new sustainable technologies to curb the environmental crisis, with animal agriculture specifically needing such vital transformation. And we’ve seen this in the skyrocketing of billionaire-baked fungi fake meats as well as in the incredible rise of everything ‘lab-grown’—with the most notable concoctions being lab-grown coffee and lion meat. Yes, you read that right, lion meat.

Now, as if it couldn’t get any stranger, meat-growing labs are headed for space. Though we have seen the experimentative use of space for the development of food and drink before—take the ageing of wine among the stars and the successful growth of many plants—a new test is piloting the growth of meat cells off-planet.

As of last week, tests began to trial the experiment cooked up by Aleph Farms, an Israeli company specialising in the germination of meat from cells, the BBC reports. The food tech company, backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, partnered with SpaceX to send the first all-private team mission—made up of Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe, Mark Pathy and accompanied by former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria—to the International Space Station (ISS) with some animal cells, and all the tech wizardry needed to make it grow. According to the BBC, the team set off on 8 April and were due back yesterday, 24 April. Upon return the cells will be deeply analysed.

So, why grow meat in space when you can grow it just as easily (or undoubtedly in more abundance) on Earth? Well, the aim by Aleph Farms is to increase the length of travel for visiting astronauts that may face  nutrient limiting conditions as well as cultivate a better understanding of muscle tissue formation. The cultured meat startup stated the following, as reported by The Daily Express:

“Prolonged exploration in space, such as getting to Mars, is limited by the ability to provide quality nutrition to astronauts. Aleph Farms is developing a technological platform for the production of cultivated beef steaks in a process that consumes a significantly smaller portion of the resources needed to raise an entire animal for meat.”

The company also added that low-gravity conditions would aid in developing “a complete process of cultivated meat production for long-term space missions and build an efficient production process that reduces the environmental footprint on Earth.” The idea is, if it can crack growing meat in the harshest conditions possible, like space, then it would significantly cut environmental costs for its development here on Earth. But what’s the actual science behind it for the rest of us who have no idea how this works?

Well, Doctor Zvika Tamari, head of space research at Aleph Farms, divulged to The Daily Mail the process of cultivating meat from cells: “We start with bovine cells, grow them in bioreactors and then multiply and diversify the cellular mass. This then turns them into various cell types that exist in steak, which is muscle cells primarily, adipose or fat cells and collagen cells, which are very elastic. So we take the cells that we grow and make them into tissue that resembles the steak you eat regularly. And that is what we’re going to do on the ISS.”

Of course, while such groundbreaking methods are taking place, they are not without fault or cause for concern. It begs the question, is it really necessary? Though the startup has made some serious progress in its plans—take producing the world’s first 3D-bioprinted ribeye steak for example—it still faces major criticism. The BBC notes that the food tech organisation is yet to receive regulatory approval in Israel to actually serve up its lab-grown concoctions at restaurants—so, if we can’t even eat it on Earth yet, what’s the point of space meat?

The opinions are divided. On Aleph Farms’ side of the camp, there is an argument of prolonging space travel for astronauts, curbing the costly (figures vary) transportation of food to space and the psychological wellbeing of the astronauts to have ‘normal’ meals from home. However, David Humbird, a chemical engineer at Berkeley, disagreed on many areas of these benefits.

Humbird told the BBC that not only would sterility be an issue—contamination for a small community on Mars, let’s say, would be disastrous—but the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to transportation. “Those cells that are themselves grown on edible material are going to be sugar, amino acids, and water. And the caloric value of the cells that you make will always be less than that,” he stated.

“[In] the best case you could probably recover 25% of the calories and eat them as food. So the question is, why would you drag all those calories into space just to expend 75% of them?” he continued.

Lab-grown lion meat could soon be served at your favourite restaurants in the UK

The latest lark in culinary cuisine is artificial meat substitutes. However, the newest addition to the line of lab-grown foods might take you by surprise—because it’s ‘lion meat’. Yes, you read that right folks.  It seems that the predators have caught the attention of the fine dining industry. If the concept of tiger tacos interests you, then keep reading, because they could soon be available at your favourite restaurants in the UK.

From a list including lions, tigers and bears (oh my, indeed), at least two of these animals could very well end up taking over menus in restaurants. If the pitched products manage to pass regulatory checks, that is. A menagerie of select choices of meat for dishes we all know and love—think succulent tiger steaks and exotic zebra sushi rolls—will also accompany the possible sale of lab-grown lion meat in the UK. Though there’s one thing we feel the need to clarify: the meats in question do not come from the animals themselves, instead they’re from the cosy confines of laboratories that create them artificially.

The idea is the brainchild of tech startup Primeval Foods. The meat itself is “cultivated” from the self-declared “future of food” company, and though it is climate-friendly, it raises a few eyebrows—along with truckloads of other questions—as to where our meat comes from and whether we should even be eating it at all.

The Independent detailed that Primeval Foods’ goal is to get its meats into “Michelin-starred restaurants in London,” with even bigger plans to “expand on a larger scale, even to local supermarkets.” So mock meats could end up on our shelves, huh? Let’s find out more about them before our local supermarkets start stockpiling these artificial creations.

What is this so-called “cultivated meat” everyone is speaking of? Well, it is a production method that allows companies to make food from any species—you know, minus all the animal slaughter. How, you ask? The answer lies in animal cells, which are directly harvested and allow these companies to replicate “the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” according to the Independent. Instead of the bloodshed, cultivated meat producers grow the necessary animal cells directly, which gives them the chance to replicate all the nutritional profiles and the ever so sought-after sensory experiences of eating the real deal.

This concept helps us all dodge the unnecessary process, which is considered barbaric by many, of raising animals for their eventual slaughter. Considered as a more sustainable practice of meat making, these lab-grown creations also aid the effort to conserve our world’s resources by maintaining land and water, “preserving habitat, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing manure pollution and antibiotic overuse,” as the Independent further noted.

However, there are some caveats to this new creation. For one, we don’t know much about the scalability of this fake meat business. As the Independent pointed out, “cultivated meat is not yet produced on an industrial scale.” Along with the “​​relative uncertainty” that it could actually benefit the planet preservation-wise, in February 2022, the Financial Times reported a “slump” in plant-based sales when company Beyond Meat’s stock plummeted by 11 per cent. The Independent also outlined that, within the last three months of 2021, the company’s losses have amounted to around $80.4 million—more than three times that of the previous year.

On the flip side, scientists do seem to agree that the overall environmental impacts of cultured meat production would be considerably marginal compared to the conventionally-produced ones that is today’s standard. A study, published by ACS Publications in 2011, observed the impacts of cultivated meat and went on to state that its production uses approximately anywhere from seven to 45 per cent less energy than what is used in the production of European meat. The study also concluded that greenhouse gas emissions were 78 to 96 per cent lower, and land usage also managed to get cut down by 99 per cent. Heck, even water usage went down by 82 to 96 per cent. Lab-grown: 1, homegrown: 0.

Primeval Foods and its advocates certainly agree. “People are constantly seeking to discover new foods, new restaurants, new culinary experiences, but the traditional species have reached their limitation on meeting this demand,” said Yilmaz Bora, managing partner for Ace Ventures—which is the London-based venture studio that created Primeval Foods. “It has to go beyond the current beef, chicken, and pork dishes, and it has to come without the expense of nature,” he added.

Furthermore, the company has big plans to host taste testings in the coming months “to give the world a taste of what the next chapter of food would look like,” Bora enthusiastically claimed.

The company thinks its meat could rise above the hit that the food industry has taken in recent years—believing that now is the time to “double down on innovative ideas,” the Independent reported. Not only are the meats in question climate friendly, but Primeval Foods hopes these ‘exotic’ alternatives will also prompt people to explore novel culinary experiences.

So why not be a little adventurous and try a lion burger on your next meal out?