Coming surprisingly soon: Bioengineered leather

Would you rather eat bioengineered flesh – or wear it?

Tissue engineering has been much in the news over the past 18 months, yet the technology is in use now mainly for transplants. But engineered consumer products like meat and skin could be widely available much sooner than you’d think. Question is: Which would be more popular?

Gabor Forgacs, scientific founder of the company Modern Meadow, gave the TEDMED 2011 community a close-up demo of a 3D bioprinting process, including cooking and eating a small portion of bioengineered meat onstage. The company received significant financial backing from Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel in August.

But Modern Meadow’s first projects could be wearable rather than edible. In an interview with Scientific American, Meadow CEO Andras Forgacs (yes, son of Gabor), revealed that the company plans to produce skin rather than meat right now, in part because of potential resistance to eating manufactured flesh:

“Anecdotally, we’ve found that around 40 percent of people would be willing to try cultured meat,” he says. “There’s much less controversy around using leather that doesn’t involve killing animals.”

A full production line could be up and running in as soon as five years, he says; it’s just a matter of putting know-how into practice:

There’s no science we’re using that we’re not confident with. This isn’t about scientific risks, it’s about engineering challenges.”

Watch the senior Forgac’s TEDMED 2011 talk to see how it all began.