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Cellular agriculture

Cellular agriculture

Cellular agriculture is an interdisciplinary scientific field drawing from several disciplines such as synthetic biology, genetic engineering, molecular biology, tissue engineering, biochemistry, and food science to design organisms capable of producing a wide variety of agricultural products.

Cellular agriculture is an interdisciplinary scientific field drawing from several disciplines such as synthetic biology, , molecular biology, tissue engineering, biochemistry and to design organisms capable of producing a wide variety of agricultural products. Cellular agricultures primary focus is designing organisms capable of building relevant proteins, fats, and other tissues for the production of . For example, animal products made through cellular agriculture include: , poultry, fish, dairy, egg, , and . There are two categories of cellular agricultural products: cellular and acellular. Cellular products are made from whole cells — living or dead — and include products like beef, poultry and fish. Acellular products are made from products that are made by cells and do not include any living or once living cells. Examples of acellular products include: omega-3 fatty acids, gelatin, casein, and ovalbumin. Cellular agriculture is a technology that provides opportunities to improve upon trade-offs of traditional agricultural practices and methods for meat production such as animal welfare, environmental impact, and nutritional value.

According to Dr. Mark Post of , who created the first cultured beef burger in 2013, it takes 440,000 cows to produce 1,750,000 burgers; the same amount of burgers could be cultured from the cells of one cow using cellular agriculture techniques. Proponents of cellular agriculture highlight this potential for reduction in animal suffering as compared to traditional livestock practices. Erin Kim, communication director of , believes "There is simply no more room left to pack more animals onto land, or meat onto the breast of a boiler chicken".

In 2017, the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recognized that the cellular agriculture industry, especially brewery-based in-vitro animal products, is set for high growth in the future due to recent technological advancements. The process of culturing products through cellular agriculture involves extracting and isolating self-renewing cells such as embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells and/or introducing genes into organisms capable of producing the desired product such as milk proteins, collagen, or muscle tissues, and letting these cells grow in a .


In 1912, one of the first scientists developing what would later become cellular agriculture Ross Harrison wrote in his paper titled, The cultivation of tissues in extraneous media as a method of morphogenetic study, that "The fact that tissues of the higher animals may be cultivated outside the body has been heralded in the news papers and magazines as a notable, if not revolutionary, scientific discovery".

Harrison pioneered the first methods for the in vitro cultivation of cellular tissues grown outside of animal organisms. Harrison's methods were originally developed to study the conditions promoting differentiation of nerve fibers, and his techniques were later were modified to study the effects of salts and various animal extracts on animal tissue growth independent and separate from the animal organism. Harrison continued his research, trying to keep tissues alive and grow before coming to the conclusion that optimal survival and growth could be achieved by continuously supplying the tissues with growth medium while constantly removing waste products; and the first concept of a was born.

First known bioreactor for tissue culturing made by Ross Harrison in 1912.

Single flask tissue culturing apparatus with two separate chambers connected to a gas line.

In 1939, laboratories of the Rockefeller Institute for medical research produced the second major technological breakthrough for cultivating tissues independent of animals. Researchers in the labs of the Rockefeller Institute, most notably Dr.Raymond C. Parker, designed and described many new systems for culturing large numbers of tissue fragments. Pioneering single flask culturing by making two separate chambers within the a single flask; a reservoir chamber that holds the culture medium and a culture chamber that holds tissue fragments. The researchers were able to control oxygenation of chambers within the flask by connecting a gas line to the flask. These techniques and culturing systems developed by scientists at the Rockefeller Institute for medical research allowed scientists to begin culturing tissue fragments in large quantities for the first time using a single flask system that grows tissues on a thin layer of nutritional medium with sufficient and constantly circulating oxygen.

Series of culturing flasks connected to a gas line.
Wet lab technologies
  1. DNA/RNA
  2. Enzymes
  3. Vectors
  4. Cloning
  5. Cell libraries
  6. sequencing
Dry lab technologies
  1. Vector drawing software
  2. Computer aided design software
  3. Primer calculation software
  4. Informatics and data analysis software
Cellular agriculture and the environment

According to a study published in the Environmental Science and technology journal analyzing the environmental impact of compared to traditional livestock meat production, cultured meat has a significantly lower environmental impact. The 2011 study shows how cultured meat can improve upon traditional European livestock agriculture by reducing energy consumption by 7-45%, using 99% less land, 82-96% less water, and reducing emissions by up to 78-96%.


A later 2015 study titled "Anticipatory Life Cycle Analysis of in Vitro Biomass Cultivation for Cultured Meat Production in the " further examined cellular agriculture for meat production with less hopeful results for the environment. They found cellular agriculture uses more energy than previously thought due to the industrial nature of cultured meat production. Using cellular agricultural techniques in 2015 the study found that culturing beef and poultry products was using approximately up to 35% more energy than traditional agricultural techniques. Researchers made their energy use (approximately 43% , 33% coal, and 16% from the electricity grid) and green house gas emission estimates based on the average energy requirements and green house gas emissions of breweries across the US in 2003 as reported by the .

Greenhouse gas emissions

The same study found differing greenhouse gas emissions between cultured meat varieties. Beef was shown to result in about 76% less green house gas emissions due to no methane production as a by-product of cow digestion, while pork and poultry had higher energy requirements and more green house gas emissions when compared to traditional livestock agriculture production.

Land use

The study demonstrated significantly less land use — roughly half the amount of traditional European livestock agriculture — needed for production due to not requiring animal feed to produce cultured meat products.

This reduction in land requirements is due to the improvements in the biological efficiency of cultured meat made possible through cellular agriculture. Traditional livestock require food and energy to grow biological parts that are not the primary desire of livestock farmers. For example, animals have to make things such as skin, internal organs, and hair, while meat grown in-vitro only grows what ever product is desired; usually skeletal muscle tissue in the case of cultured meat.

Input requirements

By growing meat in-vitro, not having the need to grow skin, hair, organs, circulatory system, etc.., comes at the cost of having to regulate temperature, disperse and introduce nutrients and oxygen into the tissue evenly, and control for any pathogens that can infect the tissue. This is all done inside of the used to grow cultured meat products which requires high amounts of industrial energy as detailed in Carolyn Mattick's paper "Cellular agriculture: The coming revolution in food production" published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on January 8th, 2018.

Some scientists believe as the technology supporting cellular agricultural progresses, the industry will require fewer inputs and less maintenance of the that makes products like cultured meat possible, and the full extent of environmental implications of cellular agriculture will be realized.

Impact on oceans and fresh water systems

There is no need for the use of pesticides and herbicides to make animal products using cellular agriculture. Less pesticide and herbicide use made possible by cellular agriculture will help to reduce ocean eutrophication due to excessive amounts of nutrients flowing into the worlds oceans through agricultural run off, and play a significant roll in the restoration of the oceanic (low oxygen areas) back to productive marine ecosystems.


August 5, 2013
Sale of first cultured beef burger

Dr. Mark Post of , made the worlds first cultured beef burger that sold for $330,000 at Couch's Great House Restaurant in Polperro, England.

April 25, 2008
PETA offers $1 million prize for cultured chicken meat

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) offered a $1 million prize to the first company to produce, and bring to market, cultured chicken meat that is price competitive in at least 10 states and is indistinguishable from real chicken meat by June 30th, 2012. PETA extended the deadline to March 2014, but the prize was never claimed by anyone.

December 18, 1997
Van Eelen Willem Frederik applies for first cultured meat production patent

Van Eelen Willem Frederik, known as the godfather of cultured meat, filed and was later awarded the first patent for cultured meat production. His patent was titled "Industrial production of meat using cell culture methods" and was awarded grant status on September 18th, 2007.

January 1, 1995
Commercial in-vitro cultured meat production gets FDA approval

In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approves in-vitro cultured meat production for commercial purposes in the United States.

December 1, 1931
Winston Churchill comments on cellular agriculture

Winston Churchill publishes an article in Strand Magazine titled 'Fifty Years Hence' and writes: "Microbes, which at present convert the nitrogen of the air into the proteins by which animals live, will be fostered and made to work under controlled conditions, just as yeast is now. New strains of microbes will be developed and made to do a great deal of our chemistry for us. With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished. That gloomy Utopia of tabloid meals need never be invaded. The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation."

May 1, 1912
First tissue culturing techniques are developed

Ross Harrison pioneered the first methods for the in vitro cultivation of cellular tissues grown outside of animal organisms.

December 5, 1911
First animal tissue recorded to survive outside of the animal organism

Alexis Carrel, a French surgeon and biologist at the Rockefeller institute in New York, and his colleagues ran experiments from 1911 to 1946 growing chick heart muscle tissues in petri dishes. Their cellular cultures were shown to outlive normal chick muscle tissue cells (over two months) helping formulate the idea of cellular immortality and contributing greatly to cellular aging research.




Further reading


'World's First' Lab-Grown Meatball Looks Pretty Damn Tasty

Hilary Hanson

Web article

A Closer Look at Cellular Agriculture and the Processes Defining It - AgFunderNews

Erin Kim

Web article

A method of furnishing a continuous supply of new medium to a tissue culture In Vitro

Montrose T. Burrows

Academic paper

Cellular Agriculture

New Harvest

Web article

Cellular Agriculture 101

Cellular Agriculture Society

Web article

Cellular Agriculture Society

Cellular Agriculture Society

Web article

Cellular agriculture: a way to feed tomorrow’s Smart City? - L'Atelier BNP Paribas

Agathe Foussat and Pauline Canteneur

Web article

Cellular agriculture: The coming revolution in food production.

Carolyn Mattick

Academic paper

Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World

Paul Shapiro


Engineering the animal out of animal products

Telugu, B.P., Tuomisto, H.L., Roberts, R.M., Landis, A.E., Mattick, C.S., Wilks, M., Phillips, C.J.C., Tucker, C.A., Haastrup, P., Genovese, N.J., Domeier, T.L., Ellis, M.J., Allenby, B.R., Amber Dance

Academic paper

Future Food - In Vitro Meat

Web article

History & the Neomnivore

Kristopher Gasteratos


Lab-made ‘foie gras’: Japan firm claims product could be commercially viable by 2021

Lester Wan

Web article

The cultivation of tissues in extraneous media as a method of morpho-genetic study

Ross G. Harrison

Academic paper

Why This Cardiologist Is Betting That His Lab-Grown Meat Startup Can Solve the Global Food Crisis

Jeff Bercovici

Web article

Why use air-lift bioreactors?

Jose Merchuk

Academic paper

World Livestock 2011 - Livestock in food security

United Nations

Academic paper

World's first lab-grown burger eaten

Staff Reporter

Web article

Documentaries, videos and podcasts


Bioprocessing Cell Culture Overview – Two Minute Tuesday Video

September 14, 2016

Could Lab-Grown Meat Make Eating Human O.K.? (Part 2 of 3)

January 25, 2018

Could We Evolve to Not Eat Meat? (Part 3 of 3)

February 1, 2018

How Will Cellular Agriculture Be Regulated? with Vince Sewalt | New Harvest 2017

December 14, 2017

New Harvest 2016: Beef, Pork, and Chicken from Cell Culture

August 23, 2016

New Harvest 2016: The Next Era of Food Fermentation

August 22, 2016

On Meat without Animals: Considering Cellular Agriculture

January 17, 2017

The Elements of Cultured Meat: Bioreactors 101 with Marianne Ellis | New Harvest 2017

December 12, 2017

Tomorrow's Food: Cultured Meat

September 28, 2016

You Think You Know What Meat Is... But You Have No Idea (Part 1 of 3)

January 18, 2018



Kristopher Gasteratos

San Francisco, CA


Arturo Elizondo

San Francisco, CA

No-chicken egg whites

Mike Selden

San Francisco, CA

Lab-grown fish

Alex Lorestani

San Francisco, CA

Lab-grown "texture" molecules such as gelatin

San Leandro, CA

Lab-grown meat

Peter Verstrate

Maastricht, Netherlands

Lab-grown meat

Isha Datar

New York, NY

Non-profit research institute

Ryan Pandya

San Francisco, CA

No-cow dairy milk


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