- Israeli cell-based meat startup Aleph Farms said it produced meat on the International Space Station, 248 miles away from any natural resource, for the first time.
- On Sept. 26, Aleph Farms worked with a Russian bioprinting company to assemble "a small-scale muscle tissue in a 3D bioprinter developed by 3D Bioprinting Solutions, under micro-gravity conditions," the company said in a release.
- The company said its successful experiment "serves as an essential growth indicator of sustainable food production methods that don't exacerbate land waste, water waste and pollution." Aleph Co-Founder and CEO Didier Toubia noted in the release that 10,000 to 15,000 liters of water aren't available in space to produce one kilogram of beef.
While this is a creative strategy to show Aleph is continuing to make progress in developing cell-cultured meat, it's probably more valuable for the company to show that meat sourced from animal cells can be manufactured using a 3D bioprinter in an extreme environment. As sustainability becomes more important to consumers, companies developing cell-cultured meat are looking to show off their small environmental footprint.
In the release announcing the news, Aleph cited a report published last month by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizing how conventional animal farming methods contribute to climate change. This milestone in space showcases to consumers how few resources are needed for lab-grown meat. While producing lab-grown meat on a commercial scale on Earth, let alone in any meaningful quantity in space, appears to be a ways off, consumer interest could spur faster development of the technology — assuming shoppers are willing to pay for it.
This type of experimental approach could be applied to other space-bound projects or potentially other extreme environments such as the Arctic where conventional animal agriculture doesn't work as well. The timing for this space experiment also coincides with this year's 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
According to AgFunder News, the amount of "space steak" Aleph produced was only about 1.5 millimeters long — or about .06 of an inch. Just last December, the company announced it made the first cell-grown minute steak that delivers "the full experience of meat with the appearance, shape and texture of beef cuts." CEO Didier Toubia said at the time its initial products are still relatively thin, but the company's technology "marks a true breakthrough and a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak."
Aleph has generated enough optimism since its 2017 founding to raise more than $14 million from venture capitalists, Forbes reported. That funding has allowed the company to experiment with its technology, but it isn't the only business hoping to put cell-cultured meat on the market.
Other cell-based companies are racing to be first to market with affordable beef, chicken, fish or crustacean products. Memphis Meats is working on lab-cultured meat and poultry — in which both Tyson Foods and Cargill have invested — while Finless Foods is producing algae-based shrimp using genetically engineered algae. Just is working to develop lab-grown chicken and has partnered with Japanese meat producer Toriyama to produce lab-grown wagyu beef.
Aleph will likely need to raise significantly more money to fund its cell-cultured production on Earth. And while the company is one of the top global cell-based meat firms, it isn't likely to launch any retail products for at least a few more years.
Global cell-based meat companies saw a flurry of investment activity last year, with 12 firms raising $50 million in 14 deals. This provides evidence that there is confidence in its promise for fulfilling future protein demands with a more sustainable profile than conventional animal-based agriculture even though it's still several years away from fruition.