According to Business Insider, two startups in Silicon Valley have huge biotech potential: the gene-editing tool Crispr and lab-grown meat. Crispr allows researchers to tweak the DNA of an organism, which could cure genetic diseases like sickle cell or make climate-change-resistant crops. Lab-grown meat would allow real chicken and beef to be made in a lab from animal cells rather than from slaughter.
The startup New Age Meats is experimenting with combining the two procedures along with Memphis Meats, a startup funded by celebrities like Bill Gates and Richard Branson.
Brian Spears, the co-founder and CEO of New Age Meats, said, "Technologies like Crispr allow us to safely increase the quality of our cell growth, which means we will make meat that is tastier, healthier, and more sustainable than slaughtered meat.”
Lab-grown meat is attracting attention from an increasing number of startups in Silicon Valley, Israel, Japan, and Europe. The technique allows a sample of muscle and fat cells from an animal to be extracted and then brewed in vats until there’s enough for a slab of edible meat.
Meat accounts for around 30% of the calories humans eat around the world, but meat also has a negative effect on the environment. It requires large amounts of land and water to raise animals for slaughter, an there are ethical issues surrounding factory farming.
The companies are struggling with both the cost of the technology and the scale. The first prototypes cost $18,000 a pound, meaning a quarter-pounder cost as much as the average monthly rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. The company reduced the cost to $2,400 per pound within two years. New Age Meats said that their first prototypes for sausage links cost $2,500 per link, but they’ve gotten the price down to $250.
Another issue is that chicken and cow cells don’t continually reproduce naturally. Companies have been giving their cells a mixture called fetal bovine serum (FBS) to overcome this problem. FBS is relatively inexpensive, but it is made from the blood of pregnant slaughtered cows, which is another ethical issue. Crispr could be able to help with overcoming this problem, as it could precisely slice and reshape an organism’s genome instead of hacking away at it. This technique could allow meat cells to replicate “indefinitely.”
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