Out of this world meat cultivation: Aleph’s new “steak in space” program takes off
21 Oct 2020 --- Aleph Farms is taking food tech and nutrition to another level – literally. The Israeli cultured meat start-up’s bold new frontier involves accelerating extraterrestrial food production, a primary barrier for long-term space missions, to one day nourish space travelers as they journey to Mars and the Moon.
Through its newly launched program “Aleph Zero,” the company, backed by food producers such as Cargill, Migros and the Strauss Group, supports deep-space exploration and the potential colonization of new planets.
It focuses on introducing new capabilities for locally producing fresh, quality meat even in the harshest and remote extraterrestrial environments, such as space.
The food-tech company grows meat cuts from beef cells using a 3D tissue engineering platform. Steaks are grown directly from non-GMO cells, isolated from a living animal as part of a strategy to advance food security by producing fresh quality meat anywhere, independent of climate change and local natural resource availability.
“We plan to adapt our production process to micro-gravity, near-zero resource environments to make it suitable for extraterrestrial human colonies. We want to make sure that when people will live on the moon or Mars, we’ll be there too – to provide quality nutrition and delicious meat to literally anyone,” Didier Toubia, Aleph’s co-founder and CEO, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Access to fresh food is a main obstacle to long-term space exploration and human colonization: not only limiting the possibilities but also impacting the astronaut's mental and physiological health,” he explains.
“It limits how far away from Earth we can travel and how long we can stay in space since there’s a limit to how much food we can stock or initially carry to space. If we are to travel to Mars or the Moon, we need food production systems that are bio-regenerative and that can locally-feed the communities with quality nutrition.”
The Aleph Zero program launch follows its first experiment of producing meat on the International Space Station a year ago, in collaboration with 3D Bioprinting Solutions. This proof-of-concept marked a historic milestone in sustainable food production, resulting in new capacities to cultivate real meat directly from various types of cow cells under microgravity and far from any natural resources.
When asked if this pioneering initiative might seem a little “out there,” Toubia explains how many programs have launched in recent years, both from public agencies, such as Artemis, or private initiative, such as SpaceX or Blue Origin to renew deep-space exploration efforts and how the ‘space world’ is evolving toward multi-planetary human colonies.
“Space is becoming a significant opportunity moving forward, and companies like SpaceX have shown how private start-ups can play a significant role in supporting this market development,” he says.
“There are significant synergies between Aleph Farms’ main activities and Aleph Zero: our vision is to ensure food security independently of climate change to anyone, anywhere.”
To make this vision a reality, the company’s space program also serves short-term and long-term endeavors on Earth – a bit like car manufacturers might have Formula One teams testing and validating new technologies or material in the toughest environments before being transferred to mainstream cars.
“In this case, Aleph Zero is helping us push the frontiers of circular production and near-zero resources meat cultivation systems, to be then applied to our sustainability vision on Earth,” Toubia explains.
“Our endeavors tackle our terrestrial crises on this side of the ozone layer caused primarily by climate change, as well as excessive use and misallocation of the planet’s natural resources,” he notes.
“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.”
Space agency collaboration
Aleph Farms is securing 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 leading space programs.
These programs will leverage the company’s know-how in cell biology, tissue engineering, and food science to establish BioFarms. These are Aleph’s production facilities, where it cultivates meat in sterile and hygienic environments.
Space is one of the harshest, most remote environments possible, which forces Aleph to tighten its processes’ efficiency, develop closed-loop systems with minimal waste, continues Toubia.
“The technologies developed in such extreme environments validate our sustainability standards and help us to further optimize them for terrestrial operations – eventually deploying them into our core operations on Earth.”
“No other industry is illustrative of the vicious cycle of climate change like our food ecosystem. It is not just a significant contributor to climate change but is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Through R&D activities in space, we are developing the most sustainable technologies that can then be deployed back to our mainstream operations – ensuring that our production is as sustainable as it could be,” he further notes.
Last May, the company raised a US$12 million Series-A investment round participated by strategic partners and venture capital.
As Aleph Farms establishes its operations for mass-market together with agri-food partners in Europe, Asia and Latin America, it will be transitioning its products to pilot production next year and start building its first BioFarm.
The company’s pilot commercial launch is planned by the end of 2022.
By Gaynor Selby
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