Our Need For Things Lab-Grown
What was once something of the movies objects forming themselves in thin air is real now. Various things can be grown in a laboratory setting, some even on a large scale for commercial distribution. This technology could be a big part of the solution to establish sustainable societies. At the moment, we harvest organs from the deceased, rear animals for meat and dairy, destroy forests by cutting down trees for wood, mine the earth for diamonds, and the list goes on. All these things can already be lab-made or are on the brink of reality.
Once these staples of society can be mass-made affordably, they could supply the world while minimally impacting the natural environment. Acres of land wouldnt need to be used for food and building materials, meaning deforestation can cease, for starters. Looking at lab-grown meats alone: they require 99% less land than traditionally farmed meats, generate up to 96% fewer emissions, use up to 96% less water, and no animals need to be slaughtered in the process.
Naturally, there will be short-term disruptions, particularly job-related. For example, eco-friendly agriculture will mean fewer farms and agriculture jobs. But new employment opportunities will emerge in the scientific and technical fields related to lab-grown foods.
Whats the difference between 3D printing (additive manufacturing) and lab-grown, you may be wondering? 3D printing uses material as ink anything from plastic to cellular material whereas lab-grown materials start off as a bit of material that multiplies on its own, replicating natural processes. Thus, lab-grown material has the same cellular structure as the naturally occurring material and mimics the natural formation process but within a much shorter period.
In the future, we are bound to see various lab-grown breakthroughs coming from the medical field. Eventually, there should be alternative sources for organs and blood cultured from stem cells. In addition, there will likely be lab-produced medicines (lotions, ointments, balms, nutraceuticals, energy drinks, etc.), breast milk, and more.
Scientists are well on the way to functioning full-sized organs, with several innovations in fully functional mini-organs, or organoids, making headlines in recent years. For now, these organoids are tools for testing new drugs and studying human diseases. But soon enough, these research teams will take the technology to the next level and develop organs that can be used for implantation when someone needs an organ replacement. So far, the brain, liver, lungs, thymus, heart, blood, and blood vessels are among the growing list of lab-grown medical accomplishments.
A team of scientists from the University of Pittsburgh managed to grow miniature human livers using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs) made from human skin cells. Meaning, in the far future, someone needing a liver transplant could have the organ grown from their own skin cells! This method may even reduce the chances of a patients immune system rejecting the new tissue because it would recognize the cells as self. Whats more, their lab-grown livers matured in under a month compared to two years in a natural environment.
The scientists tested their fully-functional mini-livers by transplanting them into rats. In this proof-of-concept study, the lab-made organs survived for four days inside their animal hosts, secreting bile acids and urea like a healthy liver would.
A research team led by the University Hospital Dsseldorf induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to grow into pea-sized brain organoids with rudimentary eye structures that sense light and send signals to the rest of the brain. They used skin cells taken from adult donors, reverted them back into stem cells, and placed them into a culture mimicking a developing brains environment, which encourages them to form specific brain cells. Their mini-brains grew optic cups, vision structures of the eye found where the optic nerve and retina meet. The cups even grew symmetrically, as eyes would, and were functional!
Jay Gopalakrishnan, a senior author of the study, said:
Our work highlights the remarkable ability of brain organoids to generate primitive sensory structures that are light sensitive and harbor cell types similar to those found in the body. These organoids can help to study brain-eye interactions during embryo development, model congenital retinal disorders, and generate patient-specific retinal cell types for personalized drug testing and transplantation therapies.
This achievement is the first time an in vitro system shows nerve fibers of retinal ganglion cells reaching out to connect with their brain target an essential aspect of the mammalian brain.
Scientists from Michigan State University developed functional miniature human heart models grown from stem cells complete with all primary heart cell types and with functioning chambers and vascular tissue. The models could help researchers better understand how hearts develop and provide an ethical platform for treating disease and testing drugs or new treatments.
The teams lab-grown mini hearts follow the fetal development of a human heart, offering a new view into that process. The organoids start beating by day six, and they grow into spheres approximately 1 mm (0.4 in) wide, with all significant cardiac cell types and multiple internal chambers by day 15.
Aside from research purposes, full-sized lab-grown hearts could solve the shortage problem of hearts the world faces today. More than 25 million people suffer heart failure each year. In the United States, approximately 2,500 of the 4,000 people in line for heart transplants receive them. That means almost 50% of the people needing a new heart to keep them alive wont get it.
Unlimited supplies of blood for transfusions are possible with lab-growing technology. Blood has been challenging to grow in the lab. However, real breakthroughs in creating artificial blood have sprung up!
A couple of years ago, Japanese researchers developed universal artificial blood that worked for all blood types. It even has a shelf life of one year stored at room temperature, therefore eliminating the problem of identifying blood type and storage simultaneously.
Like that wasnt impressive enough, last year, a team of scientists from the South China University of Technology, the University of New Mexico, and Sandia National Laboratories created artificial red blood cells (RBCs) with more potential capabilities than real ones! The synthetic RBCs mimic the properties of natural ones such as oxygen transport, flexibility, and long circulation times with the addition of a few new tricks up their sleeves, such as toxin detection, magnetic targeting, and therapeutic drug delivery. In addition, blood contains platelets and red blood cells, so these new cells could be used to make superior artificial blood.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia successfully coaxed stem cells to grow into human blood vessels. The thing that is so remarkable about this study is that the system of blood vessels grown in the lab is virtually identical to the ones currently transporting blood throughout the body. They are using this now to generate new leads in diabetes treatment. They put the lab-grown blood vessels in a petri dish designed to mimic a diabetic environment.
The global demand for meat and dairy is expected to rise by almost 90% over the next 30 years, regardless of the need to cut back on meat consumption. The risk of environmental damage and the rising food demand itself is a problem many have recently addressed. Thats why companies worldwide are on the verge of scaling up all sorts of lab processes to produce various food items, including steaks, chicken, cheese, milk, ice cream, fruits, and more.
Thinktank RethinkX even published research suggesting that proteins from precision fermentation (lab-grown protein using microbes) will be about ten times cheaper than animal protein by 2035, resulting in a collapse of the livestock industry. It says the new food economy will subsequently:
replace an extravagantly inefficient system that requires enormous quantities of inputs and produces considerable amounts of waste with one that is precise, targeted, and tractable. [Using tiny land areas, with a massively reduced requirement for water and nutrients, it] presents the most significant opportunity for environmental restoration in human historyFarm-free food offers hope where hope is missing. We will soon be able to feed the world without devouring it.
The worlds pace of meat consumption is placing a significant strain on the environment. Many studies show that eating less meat is just as crucial to slowing down global warming as using solar panels and zero-emissions vehicles. Unfortunately, animal farming generates an obscene amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet again, scientists come to the rescue, working diligently to fix this situation.
Over a decade ago, researchers created something akin to ground beef, but the complex structure of steak didnt happen until recently, with Aleph Farms debuting its thick-cut rib-eye steak in 2018. Furthermore, that first burger cost around US$345,000, but now the price has dropped dramatically to the point that lab-grown chicken is to be commercially produced and hit grocery store shelves as of this year.
SuperMeat, Eat Just, and Aleph Farms are todays most prominent startups working on getting lab-grown meats to people looking to lower their carbon and environmental footprints. In addition, their products are made from actual animal cells, so theyre real meat, but no animals had to be hurt or killed.
Speaking of Aleph Farms, the company also grew meat in space to show that it can even be done in a zero-gravity environment with limited resources.
Aside from Aleph Farms figuring out how to make steak like an authentic steak, a group of Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) researchers also devised a solution to the texture challenge. First, they made edible gelatin scaffolds that have the texture and consistency of real meat. Then, they grew rabbit and cow muscle cells on this scaffolding. The research demonstrates how realistic meat products are possible!
Parker and his Disease Biophysics Group developed a technique to produce the scaffolding. Its a fiber-production system inspired by cotton candy known as immersion Rotary Jet-Spinning (iRJS). It enabled the team to spin long nanofibers of a specific shape and size using centrifugal force. So, they spun food-safe gelatin fibers, creating the base upon which cells could grow.
Natural muscle tissue is composed of an extracellular matrix, which is the glue that holds the tissue together. As a result, it contributes to the texture of the meat. The spun gelatin fibers mimicked this extracellular matrix and provided the texture to make the lab-grown meat realistic. When the team seeded the fibers with animal (rabbit and cow) muscle cells, they anchored to the gelatin scaffolding and grew in long, thin structures, similar to real meat.
Meanwhile, Boston College developed a new, even greener technology that uses the skeleton of spinach leaves to support bovine animal protein growth. However, animal products arent eliminated from the process entirely. For example, lab-grown steak and chicken are created by painlessly harvesting muscle cells from a living cow, subsequently fed and nurtured to multiply and develop muscle tissue. But for this to have the same texture as real meat, the cells need structural support to flourish and are therefore placed in a scaffold.
Singapore is leading the way, becoming the first country in the world to approve the sale of Eat Justs cultured chicken. The company will start by selling nuggets at a restaurant. Meanwhile, SuperMeat has been handing out lab-grown chicken burgers in Israel for free. Theyre aiming to gain public acceptance of the idea.
The cultured chicken starts as a tiny number of harvested cells. Those cells are put into a bioreactor and fed the same nutrients the living animal would consume to grow. The cells multiply and turn into an edible portion of cultured chicken meat. The meats composition is identical to that of real chicken and offers the same nutritional value. And its cleaner because its antibiotic-free!
Labs are manufacturing dairy products by utilizing the fermentation process of living microbes to produce dairy proteins like whey and casein. These proteins are then used to make dairy products like butter, cheese, and ice cream. Two leading companies in this category are Imagindairy and Perfect Day, which already have several products on supermarket shelves in the United States.
Researchers havent figured out how to make fruits and vegetables yet, but a team is perfecting a cell cultivation process that generates plant biomass. The stuff tastes like the natural-grown product from which the cells were obtained and even exceeded its nutritional properties. Although, the texture of the biomass is different. For example, an apple isnt a solid apple akin to one grown from a tree. Instead, its like applesauce.
Lab-produced materials Including wood, diamonds, leather, glass, clothing, crystals, gels, cardboard, and plastics for making objects are either under development or already available. Many materials need to be taken from nature mined from the earth or cut down from forests. If they can be made in a lab instead, then people could leave nature alone!
A recent project led by a Ph.D. student at MIT paves the way for lab-grown wood one of the worlds most vital resources used to make paper, build houses, heat buildings, and so much more. The process begins with live plant cells cultivated in a growth medium coaxed using plant hormones to become wood-like structures. Next, a gel matrix is used to guide the shape of the cellular growth, and controlling the levels of plant hormones regulates the structural characteristics. Therefore, the technology could grow anything from tables and chairs to doors to boats and so on.
The environmental and socio-economic impact of traditionally mined diamonds has been exposed in recent years, and as awareness grows, the rising popularity of lab-grown diamonds does too. Mined diamonds are linked to bloody conflicts, and their excavation produces carbon emissions, requires substantial water use, and causes severe land disturbances.
Research has found that 1,000 tons of earth have to be shifted, 3,890 liters or more of water is used, and 108kg of carbon is emitted per one-carat stone produced. In addition, the traditional diamond mining industry causes irreversible damage to the environment, hence why, a decade ago, researchers started experimenting with how to grow them in the lab. Its been a feat a long time in the making, but we finally have lab-grown diamonds available for eco-conscious consumers to buy.
Diamonds are made of pure carbon. It takes extreme heat and pressure for carbon to crystalize. In nature, this happens hundreds of miles beneath the Earths surface. The ones being mined were shot out by a volcano millions of years ago. So how have scientists managed to hack such an intense and time-consuming process?
They began by investigating the mechanisms behind the diamond formation, zooming in at the atomic level. This led to the invention of a novel technology that utilizes the process of HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) to mimic the natural atmospheric conditions of diamond formation. Labs can use it to replicate the process and turn pure carbon into diamonds in 2-6 weeks.
Lab-grown gems are eco-friendly rocks, especially when theyre made entirely from the sky, like SkyDiamonds. Even the electricity used to grow its stones is from renewables, so theyll indeed be the worlds first zero-impact diamonds.
But how are the diamonds created out of thin air? They are made of carbon from the sky and rainwater. The sky mining facility is in Stroud. Energy is sourced from wind and sunlight. The CO2 is sourced directly from the air. Hydrogen is produced by splitting rainwater molecules in an electrolysis machine using renewable energy. The captured carbon and hydrogen are then used to make methane, used to grow the diamonds. The final product is a diamond anatomically identical to those mined from the ground. It is even accredited, fully certified, and graded by the International Gemological Institute.
Another company, Climeworks, is also making diamonds using carbon sucked from the sky. However, SkyDiamonds takes it a step forward by using rainwater and sunshine in the process.
The last lab-grown object were going to discuss is not something in the works, but an idea a fantastic and outlandish one thats jumping far into the future but was thought up in 2010 by Mercedes Benz. The luxury car companys ambitious BIOME idea shows just how wild imagination can get with lab-grown technology. It envisions a day when it can grow an entire supercar from scratch.
Mercedes-Benz explained when launching the concept:
The interior of the BIOME grows from the DNA in the Mercedes star on the front of the vehicle, while the exterior grows from the star on the rear. The Mercedes star is genetically engineered in each case to accommodate specific customer requirements, and the vehicle grows when the genetic code is combined with the seed capsule. The wheels are grown from four separate seeds.
This list of lab-grown possibilities is just the tip of the iceberg! Other materials in the pipeline include leather, chocolate, and silk. This intelligent technology can make anything a scientist can dream up! The only limit is the imagination and dedication of brilliant people.
See more here:
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