Andras Forgacs

Co-founder - CEO, Modern Meadow, Inc.
Palo Alto, CA, United States

About Andras

Bio

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.

Languages

English, French, Hungarian

TED Conference

TEDGlobal 2013

Areas of Expertise

Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Angel/VC Funding, Social Enterpreneurship

An idea worth spreading

Growing real leather and meat without sacrificing animals or nature.

I'm passionate about

New ideas, start-ups, technology, clean environment, good health, delicious food.

Talk to me about

Biofabrication, leather, fashion, food, environment, your ideas, entrepreneurship.

People don't know I'm good at

(about to be good at) changing diapers...

My TED story

My TED story began with TEDMED 2011 when my father and co-founder in Organovo presented our work on growing organs for medicine. He had a brief second presentation showing a lab-grown pork chop which he cooked and ate on stage to illustrate how engineered tissues could also serve as a food for the future. Thus our new company, Modern Meadow, was born. I have since attended TEDMED 2012 and am thrilled to be speaking at TEDGlobal 2013. I look forward to many amazing conversations and interactions to come.

Comments & conversations

190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Kira, Great question. The whole process of growing leather from cells takes about 4-6 weeks in total. This is much shorter than raising an entire animal (2-3 years) and shipping its hide halfway around the world for tanning. Cultured meat is on a similar growing cycle with the entire process taking about 1-2 months.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Morton, Warren, These are good points about the relationship between culturing and the sourcing of cells from animals. Unless cells are "transformed" to become immortal, they would only divide so many times before fresh cells would be required from an animal. Culturing meat would not require any genetic modification to cells provided that new cells would be collected after every 50-80 cell passages. This means that culturing still depends on the availability of livestock - albeit a few very well treated animals rather than huge herds. Sourcing cells could come from a small biopsy that does not harm the animal at all. That said, the scale efficiency is potentially huge. Cells from one cow could feed at least a million times (or as much as 2^50 times) more people than otherwise. Or conversely, small biopsies that would be equivalent to a tiny pin prick would provide the meat equivalent of several whole animals. Animals would still be necessary but how we treat them could be significantly improved.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Jeff, Thanks for emphasizing this point. Culturing food is not a new concept. We've been doing this for a long time with foods like wine, beer, yoghurt, etc. Each of these involves growing cells (i.e. yeast, Lactobacillus, etc.) as part of a fermentation process. What is new here is simply the type of cells used - mammalian skin cells or muscle cells. However the concept is an extension of fermentation. Your examples are helpful analogies but not literally cultured. Technically, nylon is chemically synthesized not biologically derived. Pearls are a great parallel but they are grown from farmed oysters and not cultured at a cellular level.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Good suggestion, Sandra. Rhino horn definitely keeps coming up as an opportunity for biofabrication to disrupt poaching. It is essentially made of fused keratin (much like finger nails) which could readily be cultured. We have some experience working with keratinocytes but I would invite anyone interested in this application to contact me directly. For the time being, we're starting with leather since it is technically feasible, widely used (18 billion square feet annually) and less polarizing. Leather is not entirely a byproduct of meat but rather a co-product of the industry and a source of significant material waste and toxicity. Some exotic animals are even farmed mainly for their hides (e.g. alligator, crocodile, stingray, etc.).
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Josie, You are exactly right that what is described here is a way of biofabricating skin and then tanning it. If you look at the part describing the process, I talk directly about tanning and how this would actually require a shorter and less chemical tanning process. Biofabrication of animal products is possible today exactly because of the advances made in medicine. Tissue engineering for medical applications (i.e. growing skin for wound healing) is the foundational technology behind this approach. This builds on many years of research in medicine from our lab and others.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Great points. The talk does mention that traditional livestock has been estimated by UN FAO to contribute 18% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Some estimates place this figure higher and others lower but regardless it is significant and one of the largest drivers of climate change. The net lifecycle impact of cultured meat was best analyzed by Tuomisto and de Mattos (http://bit.ly/1cuMVHF) and more recently again by Tuomisto and Roy (http://bit.ly/150r298). These studies indicate that cultured meat would require as much as 99% less land, 96% less water, 96% less GHG emissions and nearly half as much energy. As the processes for cultured meat (and leather) are fully developed and commercially scaled, more studies will be needed to reflect real rather than theoretical approaches.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Cell culture medium is used to grow cells. This is a standard solution containing amino acids, sugars, salts etc. needed by cells for nutrition. You are right that fetal bovine serum (FBS) is often used to add hormones and growth factors to the medium. This is a standard cell biology approach when cells are initially cultured and the medium is not yet fully defined yet. In the long run, this is not necessary and can be substituted by ingredients derived from plant or other sources. In addition, cells produce their own growth factors which they infuse into the medium. By recycling a portion of this "conditioned" medium, FBS can also be reduced and eliminated. Any cultured meat or leather product would be commercialized only once it has eliminated the need for FBS.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
John, Thanks for your comments. Not everyone needs to embrace cultured meat but the key is to give consumers the choice of slaughtered vs. cultured vs. animal-free options. Even if cultured food appeals to a minority of consumers, it can still have tremendous impact on resources, environment and animal welfare. That said, cultured meat won't succeed as a product unless it is delicious, nutritious and proven safe. In many respects, culturing cells is de facto much cleaner, purer and safer than slaughtered livestock. You are right, however, that leather is less polarizing since people are more apt to wear something novel than initially eat something novel.
190041
Andras Forgacs
Posted about 1 year ago
Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals
Thank you both for the perspectives. The approach advocated here is not meant as a total solution to replace all livestock but rather as an innovation in a portfolio of needed solutions. Allen Savory's holistic management and biofabrication can and should co-exist. A good analogy is the energy industry where we don't just rely on one source for all our needs but rather a portfolio of methods spanning fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro and renewable options. Similarly, for animal products, we should not rely on one dominant method (i.e. factory farming) but rather diversify with multiple approaches on the demand and supply side.