Astronauts have successfully grown meat aboard the International Space Station (ISS), according to a press release from Aleph Farms. The Tel Aviv-based startup first achieved the feat on Earth back in 2018. The company aims to offer access to slaughter-free meat to people all over the world.
Now, it looks like the ISS crew can also grow the alt-meat in the microgravity environment of space. Furthermore, culturing meat in space could ultimately help provide a solution for the global food shortage. It could also impact the way we eat meat on Earth.
Following a Proven Process
According to Aleph, the ISS produced the meat on Sept. 26, in the Russian segment of the station. To make its lab-grown meat on Earth, Aleph extracted cells from a cow via a biopsy. Then the company placed the cells inside a “broth” of nutrients that mimic the inside of a cow’s body. As the cells multiplied, connective muscle tissue formed that ultimately grew into a thin strip of “steak.”
However, copying the texture and flavor of actual steak is challenging. Researchers are still trying to get it as close to meat as possible.
“We’re the only company that has the capacity to make fully-textured meat that includes muscle fibers and blood vessels—all the components that provide the necessary structure and connections for the tissue,” Aleph’s CEO and co-founder, Didier Toubia, said in a Business Insider interview last year.
Naturally, ISS crew members had to tweak the experiment to do it in space. Researchers placed the cells and “nutrients” mixture in closed vials and launched the payloads into orbit.
When they arrived, cosmonauts at the space station loaded the vials into a magnetic printer provided by a Russian company called 3D Bioprinting Solutions. The printer replicated the cells to form muscle tissue (the “meat”). Crew members sent the samples back to Earth (still intact and unconsumed).
Implications in Space and on Earth
Ultimately, the crew’s ability to create “the meat” in microgravity was a successful proof-of-concept experiment with potentially huge implications. Aleph CEO Didier Toubia discussed the study’s global significance in an interview with The Guardian.
“We are proving that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere, in any condition,” said Toubia. “We can potentially provide a powerful solution to produce the food closer to the population needing it, at the exact and right time it is needed.”
This operation could be vital during future deep space missions, such as in a journey to Mars.
Toubia added, “In space, we don’t have 10,000 or 15,000 liters of water available to produce 1kg of beef.”
Perhaps more importantly, the process could provide a solution for the global food scarcity issue on Earth.
“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,” Toubia said.
Those who have tasted the meat say that researchers need to improve the flavor. In other words, space-cultivated meat probably doesn’t taste anything like popular Earth-made meat alternatives like Impossible Burgers.
Nonetheless, the joint ISS study marks a huge milestone. It also proves that Aleph’s process works “under extremely harsh conditions,” even 248 miles above the Earth. Overall, the outcome bodes well for future “bio-farms” that can help combat climate change with slaughter-free meat.