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Space station experiment makes meat in microgravity using a 3D bioprinter

Aleph Farms is developing "cultivated beef steaks" on Earth, but wanted to apply its knowledge in space.

Aleph Farms unveiled an early version of its lab-grown meat in late 2018.
Aleph Farms

While meat-alternative companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are lighting up the grills in fast-food restaurants, other groups are looking at ways to grow actual meat in the lab. Israeli startup Aleph Farms is one of these.

Aleph Farms partnered with Russian laboratory 3D Bioprinting Solutions and two US companies for an International Space Station experiment on Sept. 26 that involved using a 3D bioprinter to assemble cells harvested from live animals into a small piece of muscle tissue. Yes, we've just described a tiny beef steak. In space.

The ISS astronauts won't be feasting on ribeye tonight, though. This experiment was just a proof of concept. But if you can successfully make meat in space, you could conceivably make it almost anywhere on Earth, too.  

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"We are showing that we can produce food without the reliance on local land and water resources," Aleph Farms spokesperson Yoav Reisler told CNET. Reisler said the company is looking to combat food waste and provide nutritional resources to people in need.

Aleph Farms starts by gathering cells from live cows. It nourishes and grows them in a lab environment and then assembles them into formations that are recognizable as meat for human consumption. The company refers to this as "slaughter-free meat." The lab version is meant to have the same taste and texture as farmed meat.

The startup unveiled a prototype meat strip in late 2018, but said it was working on making the strips thicker.

The idea of using 3D printers to manufacture food for astronauts in space has been around for years. It's gotten more pressing as we look ahead to sending humans deeper into space and all the way to Mars. Astronauts aren't going to want to live on freeze-dried foods, and we can't just send a herd of cows to the red planet.

Growing a steak in a bioprinter isn't quite the same as ordering a filet mignon from a Star Trek replicator, but it sure sounds better than one more bag of beef jerky.