TEDGlobal 2013

Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals

Filmed:

By 2050, it will take 100 billion land animals to provide the world's population with meat, dairy, eggs and leather goods. Maintaining this herd will take a huge, potentially unsustainable toll on the planet. What if there were a different way? In this eye-opening talk, tissue engineering advocate Andras Forgacs argues that biofabricating meat and leather is a civilized way to move past killing animals for hamburgers and handbags.

- Bioprinting entrepreneur
Andras Forgacs produces animal products -- meat and leather -- without the animal. Full bio

When my father and I started a company
00:12
to 3D print human tissues and organs,
00:14
some people initially thought we were a little crazy.
00:18
But since then, much progress has been made,
00:21
both in our lab and other labs around the world.
00:24
And given this, we started getting questions like,
00:27
"If you can grow human body parts,
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can you also grow animal products like meat and leather?"
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When someone first suggested this to me,
00:38
quite frankly I thought they were a little crazy,
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but what I soon came to realize
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was that this is not so crazy after all.
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What's crazy is what we do today.
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I'm convinced that in 30 years,
00:52
when we look back on today
00:54
and on how we raise and slaughter billions of animals
00:56
to make our hamburgers and our handbags,
01:00
we'll see this as being wasteful
01:03
and indeed crazy.
01:05
Did you know that today we maintain
01:07
a global herd of 60 billion animals
01:10
to provide our meat, dairy, eggs and leather goods?
01:13
And over the next few decades,
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as the world's population expands to 10 billion,
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this will need to nearly double
01:24
to 100 billion animals.
01:25
But maintaining this herd
01:28
takes a major toll on our planet.
01:30
Animals are not just raw materials.
01:32
They're living beings,
01:36
and already our livestock
01:37
is one of the largest users of land,
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fresh water,
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and one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases
01:43
which drive climate change.
01:46
On top of this,
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when you get so many animals so close together,
01:49
it creates a breeding ground for disease
01:52
and opportunities for harm and abuse.
01:54
Clearly, we cannot continue on this path
01:58
which puts the environment, public health,
02:01
and food security at risk.
02:04
There is another way, because essentially,
02:07
animal products are just collections of tissues,
02:10
and right now we breed and raise
02:15
highly complex animals
02:17
only to create products
02:19
that are made of relatively simple tissues.
02:21
What if, instead of starting with a complex
02:23
and sentient animal,
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we started with what the tissues are made of,
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the basic unit of life,
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the cell?
02:35
This is biofabrication, where cells themselves
02:37
can be used to grow biological products
02:41
like tissues and organs.
02:44
Already in medicine,
02:46
biofabrication techniques have been used
02:47
to grow sophisticated body parts,
02:49
like ears, windpipes, skin, blood vessels and bone,
02:52
that have been successfully implanted into patients.
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And beyond medicine, biofabrication can be
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a humane, sustainable and scalable new industry.
03:04
And we should begin by reimagining leather.
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I emphasize leather because it is so widely used.
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It is beautiful, and it has long been a part of our history.
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Growing leather is also technically simpler
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than growing other animal products like meat.
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It mainly uses one cell type,
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and it is largely two-dimensional.
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It is also less polarizing for consumers and regulators.
03:34
Until biofabrication is better understood,
03:38
it is clear that, initially at least,
03:41
more people would be willing to wear novel materials
03:43
than would be willing to eat novel foods,
03:47
no matter how delicious.
03:50
In this sense, leather is a gateway material,
03:52
a beginning for the mainstream biofabrication industry.
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If we can succeed here,
04:00
it brings our other consumer bioproducts like meat
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closer on the horizon.
04:05
Now how do we do it?
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To grow leather, we begin by taking cells
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from an animal, through a simple biopsy.
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The animal could be a cow,
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lamb, or even something more exotic.
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This process does no harm,
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and Daisy the cow can live a happy life.
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We then isolate the skin cells
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and multiply them in a cell culture medium.
04:28
This takes millions of cells
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and expands them into billions.
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And we then coax these cells to produce collagen,
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as they would naturally.
04:38
This collagen is the stuff between cells.
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It's natural connective tissue.
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It's the extracellular matrix,
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but in leather, it's the main building block.
04:46
And what we next do is we take the cells and their collagen
04:49
and we spread them out to form sheets,
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and then we layer these thin sheets on top of one another,
04:54
like phyllo pastry, to form thicker sheets,
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which we then let mature.
05:01
And finally, we take this multilayered skin
05:03
and through a shorter and much less chemical tanning process,
05:07
we create leather.
05:10
And so I'm very excited to show you,
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for the first time,
05:15
the first batch of our cultured leather,
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fresh from the lab.
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This is real, genuine leather,
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without the animal sacrifice.
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It can have all the characteristics of leather
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because it is made of the same cells,
05:33
and better yet,
05:36
there is no hair to remove,
05:38
no scars or insect's bites,
05:42
and no waste.
05:45
This leather can be grown in the shape of a wallet,
05:46
a handbag or a car seat.
05:50
It is not limited to the irregular shape of a cow
05:53
or an alligator.
05:56
And because we make this material,
05:59
we grow this leather from the ground up,
06:01
we can control its properties in very interesting ways.
06:03
This piece of leather
06:07
is a mere seven tissue layers thick,
06:09
and as you can see, it is nearly transparent.
06:13
And this leather is 21 layers thick and quite opaque.
06:16
You don't have that kind of fine control
06:26
with conventional leather.
06:29
And we can tune this leather for other desirable qualities,
06:31
like softness, breathability,
06:34
durability, elasticity and even things like pattern.
06:38
We can mimic nature,
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but in some ways also improve upon it.
06:45
This type of leather can do what today's leather does,
06:48
but with imagination, probably much more.
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What could the future of animal products look like?
06:56
It need not look like this,
07:00
which is actually the state of the art today.
07:03
Rather, it could be much more like this.
07:05
Already, we have been manufacturing with cell cultures
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for thousands of years, beginning with products
07:10
like wine, beer and yogurt.
07:13
And speaking of food, our cultured food has evolved,
07:16
and today we prepare cultured food
07:19
in beautiful, sterile facilities like this.
07:21
A brewery is essentially a bioreactor.
07:24
It is where cell culture takes place.
07:27
Imagine that in this facility,
07:30
instead of brewing beer,
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we were brewing leather
07:34
or meat.
07:37
Imagine touring this facility,
07:39
learning about how the leather or meat is cultured,
07:42
seeing the process from beginning to end,
07:46
and even trying some.
07:48
It's clean, open and educational,
07:50
and this is in contrast to the hidden,
07:53
guarded and remote factories
07:55
where leather and meat is produced today.
07:57
Perhaps biofabrication
08:01
is a natural evolution of manufacturing for mankind.
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It's environmentally responsible,
08:08
efficient and humane.
08:11
It allows us to be creative.
08:14
We can design new materials, new products,
08:16
and new facilities.
08:19
We need to move past just killing animals
08:22
as a resource
08:26
to something more civilized and evolved.
08:28
Perhaps we are ready for something
08:34
literally and figuratively more cultured.
08:37
Thank you.
08:42
(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Andras Forgacs - Bioprinting entrepreneur
Andras Forgacs produces animal products -- meat and leather -- without the animal.

Why you should listen

An entrepreneur in tissue engineering, Andras Forgacs is the co-founder and CEO of Modern Meadow, a company developing novel biomaterials. These include cultured meat and leather which, as they put it, "will require no animal slaughter and much lower inputs of land, water, energy and chemicals".  This approach involves sourcing cells from living animals, multiplying these cells into billions, and then assembling them into the tissue precursors of meat or leather. The products, for now, are at a prototype stage.

Previously, Andras co-founded Organovo, which uses 3D bioprinting to create human tissues for pharmaceutical research and medical applications, such as drug development and replacement tissues. Organovo’s bioprinting technology was recognized by MIT Technology Review on its TR50 list of most innovative companies for 2012.