Would you consider eating meat that came from a laboratory instead of a farm?

Lab-grown and printed meat is a hot topic today, standing at the intersection of the food production, life science, and global conservation industries. Products made from alternative protein sources, or manufactured using sustainable methods, have risen in popularity as consumers have become increasingly concerned about the environmental and societal impacts of industrial farming.

The global market for alternative proteins and meat substitutes was valued at $5.4 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow to roughly $11.2 billion by 2030, according to Allied Market Research. Nearly every multinational food corporation is now working to develop their own alternative meat products, with many pumping millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars into those efforts. Dozens of corporations and young startups worldwide are focusing not on developing non-meat protein products, but rather creating new kinds of meat, poultry, seafood products in labs, using muscle tissue and harvested cells from animals.

An Early Charm portfolio company, called Ortuvo, is among those startups. It is developing a unique method for alternative meat production – screen printing.

Odds are, you probably own a T-shirt that was made using screen printing. It’s a familiar process that involves dragging different inks across one or more screens with specific forms cut into them, to produce custom designs on fabrics.

But did you know that other kinds of materials can also be screen printed? Even biological materials.

In a similar way that ink is squeegeed onto a T-shirt, Ortuvo’s technology applies cells to a substrate through special screens, to produce a final 3D form. The Ortuvo team, led by Dr. Steve Farias, chief science officer, is actively working to bring the concept of screen printed meat products to life.

The technology isn’t able to produce something like a T-bone steak just yet, Farias said, but it could be used to print thin sheets of meat, like those that might be used to make a cheesesteak. Ultimately, the Ortuvo team envisions a rotary printing operation that can very quickly produce extremely long sheets of the meat on several rolls of substrate.

Ortuvo is excited about the technology’s potential to contribute to environmental conservation, and to provide sustainable food sources in areas of the world where agriculture is not robust. Industrialized agriculture contributes significantly to air pollution, biodiversity decline, climate change, and land degradation, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Creating meat products in a lab could reduce agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 76%, while using up to 99% less land.

Ortuvo’s process could theoretically be used in any place that has water. At scale, this could be an inexpensive way to feed people all over the world.

Author: Morgan Eichensehr
Bio: Morgan Eichensehr is a technical writer for Early Charm. She tells the stories behind the science being done at the venture studio’s portfolio companies.