Astronauts could one day enjoy fresh steaks in space after an Israeli company said it had, for the first time, successfully cultured lab-grown meat on the International Space Station.
Aleph Farms said in a statement Monday that astronauts in the Russian segment of the space station had carried out the experiment on September 26, proving that “slaughter-free meat” could be created 248 miles above the Earth’s surface without access to all the natural resources needed to raise farmed meat.
“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,” Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia said in a statement.
The company said it had grown bovine cells harvested on Earth into muscle tissue under micro-gravity conditions using a 3D printer, created by the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions.
The experiment uses Rehovot-based Aleph Farms technique of mimicking the natural process of muscle-tissue regeneration occurring in a cow’s body, essentially creating a small steak.
The US-based Meal Source Technologies and Finless Foods also took part in the experiment.
“We are proving that cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere, in any condition,” said Toubia. “In space, we don’t have 10,000 or 15,000 liters (4,000 gallons) of water available to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of beef.”
Several Israeli startups have joined a handful of companies around the globe trying to develop lab-grown meat, something they see as a humane solution to the needs of the world’s ever-growing population and burgeoning demand for food.
The product has been known under different names, including cultured meat, in-vitro or artificial and “clean meat” — a term advocates say underscores its environment-friendly nature. It’s basically made of animal muscle cells grown in a culture in a lab, a technology similar to stem cells.
Advocates say lab-grown meat is flavorful and better for the environment than conventional meat. They say it consumes less water, energy and land, produces less greenhouse gases and reduces animal suffering.
Agriculture is estimated to generate around 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock alone responsible for two-thirds of those emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
Aleph Farms, an Israeli startup launched in 2017, announced in December it succeeded in producing a lab-grown “minute steak” made from bovine cells that closely resembles the texture and flavor of its cow-borne counterpart.
For now, the tiny steaks are just 3 millimeters (a tenth of an inch) wide — roughly the size of a very thin strip of roast beef.
The first lab-grown burger was made by a Dutch company in 2013 at a cost of over $300,000. Production costs have fallen in the years since. Last year, US-based Memphis Meats’ ground beef alternative was reported to cost about $2,400 per pound. Each slice of Aleph Farms’ “steak” costs about $50 to produce.
Before it can hit the shelves, lab-grown meat will face regulatory obstacles. The US government’s FDA and USDA announced in November they would “jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”
AP contributed to this report