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Israeli startup Aleph Farms cooks up plan to grow cultured steaks on Mars

Aleph, which grows meat directly from cattle cells, hopes to set up consortium with space agencies; company says it wants to ‘push the boundaries’ of its production process

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustrative image of BioFarm's Israeli startup Aleph Farms hopes to set up on the Moon or Mars, as part of a consortium with space agencies, to grow meat locally (Courtesy)
An illustrative image of BioFarm's Israeli startup Aleph Farms hopes to set up on the Moon or Mars, as part of a consortium with space agencies, to grow meat locally (Courtesy)

Aleph Farms, Ltd., a startup that grows meat directly from cattle cells, said it is launching a program to set up long-term collaborations with tech companies and space agencies, to integrate its meat-growing innovations into space programs.

The main aim of the new initiative is to find new ways for producing meat even in harsh and remote extraterrestrial environments.

To the achieve this goal, Aleph Farms said it is seeking to secure strategic partnerships with technology companies and space agencies for long term collaborative research and development contracts that will ensure the integration of Aleph Farms’ innovations into space programs.

These programs will use the company’s know-how in cell biology, tissue engineering, and food science to set up “BioFarms” on Mars or on the Moon, enabling Aleph to eventually apply the lessons learned in space to earthbound sites, the company said.

“We are seeking to set up a consortium that will incorporate Aleph’s technology into Moon and Mars colonies” that will be set up by international space agencies, Didier Toubia, Aleph’s co-founder and CEO, said by phone. The firm is still holding discussions with various agencies, and nothing has been finalized yet, he said.

The BioFarm images presented by the firm are “illustrative views,” he said. “We still have to develop a detailed design” with the partners of the sought-for consortium.

The program comes on the heels of the company’s first experiment producing meat on the International Space Station a year ago.

The company said at the time that 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.

“Last year we already produced meat in space,” he said. “We already delivered a proof of concept.”

An illustration of the steak prototype produced in an Aleph Farms Ltd. lab out of cow cells (Courtesy)

“The constraints imposed by deep-space-exploration — the cold, thin environment and the circular approach — force us to tighten the efficiency of our meat production process to much higher sustainability standards,” said Toubia.

Manufacturing in space “is a way for us to push the boundaries of the production process,” he said. Just like cars test out new technologies in tough conditions such as Formula One races, he said, “the space is our Formula One to test new ways of creating meat with zero resources and reducing the footprint.”

Aleph said that it hopes to build its first BioFarms on Earth for the pilot production of its meat in 2021 by partnering with food manufacturers in Europe, Asia and Latin America. There is no timeline yet for the BioFarms in space, he said. It depends on when colonies will be set up there.

In May 2019, the company raised a $12 million Series-A investment round from venture capitalists and strategic partners such as Singpore’s VisVires New Protein (VVNP), USA’s Cargill and M-Industry and the industrial group of Migros, Switzerland.

Aleph Farms was co-founded in 2017 by Israeli foodtech incubator The Kitchen Hub, a part of the Strauss Group Ltd., and with Prof. Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

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