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What Is Cellular Agriculture?

Tufts engineers explain how it works and why it holds promise for the future of food

The world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, and with it will come a doubling in the amount of animal protein we consume. How will a planet that already struggles to produce a sustainable food supply keep pace?

Cellular agriculture may be a key piece of the solution. Through tissue engineering, scientists now know how to put cells together to form structures with tastes and textures very like those found in meat that comes from livestock.

Although the starter cells are taken from a live animal, they divide and multiply at a rapid rate in the lab. “We never need to use an animal again,” says PhD candidate Andrew Stout. That avoids the need for farm animals and their substantial demands for feedstock, water, and waste management. “There’s a ton of promise for this to offer dramatically reduced environmental impact,” Stout says.

Startups and academic labs, including those at Tufts, have begun to produce cultivated meat to replicate beef, pork, fish, and chicken.

“Over time it’s going to be a complete game changer. And it has to be,” says David Kaplan, director of the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture. “We have no other choice on this planet. We cannot feed the growing population the way we have been with protein-enriched foods unless we do something drastically new and different.”

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