EDIT: That was so great, what amazing questions. So much depth! We're over for time but will poke through and answer stragglers for the remainder of the day. Thanks for the encouragement - we're so, so excited about what cell ag can do. You can also follow us on Twitter (tweets below!) THANK YOU!!!

New Harvest was founded in 2004 to support the development of cultured meat (AKA “lab-grown meat”) and other cell culture-based foods. Our mission is to ensure cellular agriculture delivers on its promises to create a more equitable & sustainable food system by ending our dependence on animal agriculture. We fund public research and industry-wide initiatives to accelerate scientific breakthroughs and steward this tech toward making the world a better place.

**Who we are:**I (Isha) have been executive director of New Harvest since 2013. In 2015, I coined the term “cellular agriculture” to describe this entire field of any and all agricultural products grown from cells instead of animals.

Here’s my proof: https://twitter.com/IshaDatar/status/1450840042570616837?s=20

I’ll be joined by a crew of New Harvest researchers who are in the lab every day advancing the science behind cultured meat.

We’ll be answering live from 1-3pm EST

Some links you may be interested in:

• My TED talk from yesterday!

• New Harvest’s Website, Twitter and Instagram

Comments: 239 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

sorif43 karma

Hi to all. I am a big fan of your work. As I've tried to communicate the concept of cell ag and cultured meat to people unfamiliar with all that, I find myself having to spend much time describing the basic concept, so there is no room left in the discussion to explain that current iterations and the ones in the near future, are hybrids. Have you been in similar situations? How do you deal with them? I worry that consumers might resist even more if they discover much later that this thing on their plate is not pure animal cells, and feel tricked by big corporations trying to sell them stuff for profit.

ishadatar9 karma

That challenge is so real! I think what REALLY helps is that I bring up the Impossible burger, which I consider a cell ag product, because there is a cell ag ingredient! So hybrids are already out there!!

I also think it really depends on who you are talking to. I like to start with saying "food grown from cells" which encompasses both growing tissues and growing proteins in recombinant microbes. Cause unpacking both of those processes definitely takes a lot of time.

I agree companies - well all of us - have something far beyond marketing to do here. It's education, it's compassionately welcoming folks into understanding what cell ag is. Probably a lot of learn from the folks providing compassionate comms to those with vaccine hesitancy in terms of really listening and being empathetic about concerns.

natalierubio5 karma

i love this question! here's what i've been doing lately - i'll start by asking what they identify as the biggest problems in our food system. then i'll address those specific problems with cellular agriculture solutions. centering the conversation around one issue that the person you're talking to cares about the most is a great way to focus the conversation - it's ok to leave out some of the other technical details or even other potential benefits. (i've also been learning to talk less + listen more in these situations!)

ishadatar1 karma

ooh good advice

houseplant-origin36 karma

I love and am so grateful for all of the work you all are doing, and I was so excited about the news this week on funding for Tufts.

If you had to guess, when do you think the USDA/FDA will approve the sale of cultivated meat? Secondly, how soon after that do you think CM products will go on sale at restaurants/retailers?

A last question: is there a type of meat you are most excited to try now that we will (hopefully) not be limited by domestication/size?

AJamesStout28 karma

Andrew here - thanks for the kind words!! If I had to guess, I would say that a product gets approval in the US within 2-3 years, since by my understanding those agencies are really interested in the field. For sale at restaurants? Probably a similar time frame (as soon as a company gets regulatory approval, they will likely partner with some restuarant and sell their product at a financial loss to get feedback, garner interest, and for marketing). For sale not at a loss at restaurants and retailers? That's where I get much less confident and usually dodge the question by saying 2-100 years. The truth is we (I) just don't have any sort of good look under the hood of these companies, and don't have a clear sense of where their tech is. I think per u/sorif's earlier question, the first products will be a hybrid plant-based cell-based product (e.g., adding 5% fat cells to a plant-based burger to improve the mouthfeel and flavor) rather than a fully cell-based meat. By doing that, you've in one stroke decreased your cost of production by a ton. Whether it gets you to a price that does well in an actual food market? I'm not sure. So I'll bring it all home and say 2-100 years.
For the last question: it'd be interesting to try some sort of animal that lives in relatively extreme conditions (ie super high pressures or extreme temperatures) and see what that does to the food. I think some arctic marine animals (e.g., seals) have crazy high myoglobin (or maybe it's hemoglobin?) content in their muscles, which makes the meat very dark red. Could be interesting to see what other oddities nature has made to muscle in extreme environments! Some bottom-of-the-sea-type fish could taste pretty interesting I'd guess.

houseplant-origin3 karma

Thank you so much for your detailed answer. That’s really interesting—now I want to try cultivated seal! Thank you again for all of the work you do. Once I’m done with my degree I’m hoping to join you all in this kind of work!

ishadatar7 karma

I hope you join!!!! Don't hesitate to reach out! [email protected]

ishadatar8 karma

USDA/FDA are interesting because compared to other regulatory environments they are super pro-innovation, pro-economic growth but compared to other countries they are more influenced by animal ag lobbies (imho, not my expertise). So I'm not exactly sure what will happen...

I really want to try the foie gras that Gourmey is working on!!!! And if that works, what other animals' livers could we make gras? haha

sambat11052 karma

Do you feel the USDA/FDA are more influenced by animal ag lobbies than the European Commission?

ishadatar2 karma

I just don't know that much about the EC!! But you make a great point.

Carl_The_Sagan22 karma

Thoughts on The Counter article which casts doubts on aspects of the feasibility of the cell-based meat industry?

ishadatar30 karma

BEST Q! I did a big tweet thread response to this shortly after the article came out: https://twitter.com/IshaDatar/status/1441070303786913796?s=20

The gist of it is that we bravely venture into scientific theories because we don't know what the outcome will be. If we had certainty about cell ag's success then the field wouldn't be a hodge-podge of mission driven folks trying to make it work. It'd be huge corps - pharma and food - scaling up facilities.

It's this unknown that makes the idea so awesome. This is why science is amazing!

natalierubio6 karma

the counter article is great, very well researched! the TEA mentioned in the article (https://engrxiv.org/795su/) is an awesome read (esp. for those with chemical engineering backgrounds).

the article/TEA are exciting to me because they indicate that there is a huge need for academic efforts in this field - because there are difficult problems that can be solved through innovation, collaboration, new ways of thinking, looking for inspiration from industries other than biotech...

if anyone wants to get involved in the cultured meat space & isn't sure where to get started - (1) read the humbird TEA, (2) pick one of the many highlighted problems, (3) dive into reading about the relevant technologies, (4) talk to experts and (5) brainstorm new & crazy ways to address the problem!! finally - (6) write & post what you discovered along the way :)

dhumbird11 karma

The "Humbird TEA" is, first and foremost, a stunt. It's chemical-engineering performance art. A thorough and well-reasoned analysis of an absolutely banana-pants idea. The technical issues highlighted within (and brought to light by The Counter) are the products of a well-honed bullshit detector. Sit with them for long enough, and you can hone one too.

ishadatar7 karma


Certain_Palpitation11 karma


ishadatar2 karma

u/natalierubio is way more on top of the life cycle assessments as she is a hardcore engineer BUT I'll just add two cents to say that all of this is pretty much speculation right now - we need a lot more transparency from companies who are actually developing these processes, and a lot more public research to inform policymakers/the public on how we can move forward. It's early days still!

But yeah we definitely must not lose sight of this as a core tenet of why cell ag matters and what we need to steer towards

000micky8 karma

So cool to see this industry growing so much! Thanks for doing an AMA. Got a few questions:

  • How close do you think are fully defined animal-derived component (including human derived) free medias to the market? Do you see this part of the market growing significantly?
  • What are the most promising scaffold fabrication strategies and material sources? Always thinking about scale and best bio-mimcry
  • How sustainable do you think this industry will be in the future? Especially when you consider all the land, water, electricity usage for the whole seed train


ishadatar7 karma

Re: animal-free media. This is a huge business opportunity not only for cell ag but for all cell culture work in general. Science's dependence on fetal bovine serum is one of those vestiges of science not questioning itself and kind of moving forward with an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" attitude even tho FBS is pretty broken (it's highly variable, for one thing, which makes planning experiments pretty challenging).

There are already FBS-free media on the market, but I am pretty sure a lot of them just contain other animal products. Future Fields is a company (co-founded by a New Harvest grantee!) that already is selling a FBS-free media made of insects. (which is a neat thing to think about). I think an amazing future is where the components of FBS are made recombinantly but I honestly don't know if that's going to be that cost effective. Perhaps even better is working with modified cells that require fewer media components, or some midway point where the cells are slightly modified and the media provides SOME of the components. SO MUCH ROOM FOR CREATIVITY HERE. And I honestly think this is where the real IP of this whole concept lives.

sorif7 karma

Hi Isha! On the TED talk you say:

"There's a real chance that cellular agriculture could fail, and it won't be because the science doesn't add up. It'll be because we didn't think about what ownership should look like, or IP protection or governance or policy - you know, the business side of mission-driven businesses."

So, in your opinion, how should all these things look like, so that we can reach the dream scenario, regrow the Amazon, and live happily ever after?

ishadatar10 karma

ok how to i begin to respond to this... first by saying I don't have all the answers and I am often wrong and open to learning.

Re: IP - I'm gonna go with my most idealistic framing. I think all of cell ag needs to be entirely open source (like food is, or at least should be). Like how you can buy a seed and plant a tomato plant, you should be able to do the same for meat, milk, and eggs. The thing is most people still probably buy more tomatoes than grow them, so I don't think this threatens industry at all. IP protection is dangerous - it prevents us from deeply understanding and evaluating the tech (for safety, etc), it prevents us from improving on it without abandon (so it can become more efficient and adapted to different climates, cultures etc.) and it creates really unequal income distribution between owners/producers.

Re: governance - the governance of cell ag should begin with the benefits that companies (and orgs like New Harvest) are touting - better for the environment, animals, and public health. We should set parameters for how, exactly, cell ag products will be better than animal products on those three things, and hold ourselves accountable to them. This is what being mission-driven should be about. I'd like to say govts would do this but I am not so sure - look at how they continue to hold up fossil fuels and animal ag.

Policy needs to be designed to ensure that the balance of cell ag vs. other technologies actually allows for these commitments to nature restoration.

HOW DOES THIS ALL HAPPEN? Or more importantly, who makes this all happen. This is where NH comes in! I think all technologies need to be guided by independent, public bodies (like what we'd want govts to do but they can't - look at how govts are attempting to govern and guide facebook retroactively). These bodies aren't just governing but actually part of building a movement.

I drafted up some new copy describing what New Harvest is and I think it gets at, somewhat, what you're asking about. Let me know what you think of it!! We haven't shared it anywhere yet!

Technology needs a steward. Governments are rarely able to keep up with the pace of start-ups, and start-ups are not incentivized to come together to achieve collective progress. For technologies that could have an incredible impact on sustainability, climate readiness, and food security, this coordinated action is crucial and neglected.
New Harvest is a different kind of organization, a non-profit whose aim is to steward and develop an emerging technology and industry towards having the best possible impact on the world. Through a combination of industry-wide initiatives, research, and fellowship programs, we aim to transcend private interests, to drive technical excellence and the public good.

justBLACKice3 karma

Other than regulatory obstacles, what has to happen for cultured meat to become profitable and on what timescale does that happen?

ishadatar1 karma

Figuring out ways for companies to work collectively towards collective challenges - like safety, like scale up, like talent development, like standardization - is, IMHO, absolutely critical to moving this field along quickly. Otherwise we are stalled in a venture-capital induced prisoner's dilemma

Interesting-Chest-753 karma

with cell meat, how would the fat part be done?

fat cells I reckon would be even more complex?

thank you and keep up w the amazing work !!

ishadatar4 karma

There are companies working on fat! Check out Mission Barns they have a bacon that looks crazy good.

I think there might be some technical advantages to culturing fat. I'm not an expert but I think you'd have some flexibility in texture (some say meat is more about TEXTURE than TASTE) and I think fat cells are maybe less finicky in culture (don't need to fuse them to mature, elongate, etc).

And thanks for the encouragement!!!! We need it!!

ooglygoo3 karma

When can I buy lab grown meat/eggs/dairy from my local grocery store in Canada?! In other words, how far away are we from mass production? I’m impatiently waiting!!

ishadatar4 karma

Yeah Canada is a no go yet, except for Impossible which I consider cell ag!

I live in Canada too! It's kinda funny how little cell ag I've consumed. I'm really curious about Brave Robot's cell cultured ice cream coming up here because dairy is managed so different in Canada vs the US.

Maleficent-Energy-512 karma

There are so many cautionary tales of emerging technologies that never lived up to their potential. What are some historic examples that feel especially relevant to cell ag? And what lessons learned can we apply to ensure that cell ag delivers on its promises?

ishadatar2 karma

YES. We must always look at history and learn.

I want to call on u/dhumbird again, who did the Humbird TEA mentioned above... he did a lot of work with biofuels and I think biofuel technology is perhaps the best cautionary tale for cell ag practitioners to be aware of.

ishadatar1 karma

Also do a Google of Amyris' stock over their lifetime and that's kinda the story of biofuels.

TONS of investment, but at the end of the day competing with something that is artificially priced - fossil fuels. Cell ag is no difference as animal products are artificially priced as well. So unless we incentivize for different "externalizations" related to environment, animal welfare, etc. We are kind of on the biofuels path. This is why policy can not and must not be ignored as cell ag develops.

spameggsspamandspam2 karma

How does it taste?

AJamesStout4 karma

Andrew here - it's one of my big disappointments that I personally haven't yet eaten any! And I first started doing research on this in 2013 :'( In the lab we just do things on such small scales (my work is on cell biology and cell line engineering, so the studies only need a relatively tiny number of cells) that we've never had the need to justify the time/money to make a full product that we could eat. There was a time when I took a lentil-sized peice of tissue home and cooked it on a spoon with a lighter...but I don't think that counts and anyways I burned it :)
HOPING to get to try some soon, though

StephanieKawecki2 karma

A graduate student in my lab tried some beef grown on gelatin microcarriers! He reported that he was able to pick up some umami and salty taste- and that it was not unpleasant, which I take as a win. This was without any flavor or taste optimization. I have not tried it, but it smells good to me when I cook it, especially when I add some fat in there! :-)

ishadatar3 karma

Ppl have said the salty thing before! I honestly wonder if that's the FBS? yikes..

ishadatar1 karma

I am so, so due for tasting more stuff but I had a "steak chip" by Modern Meadow liteally 7 years ago. It was basically a potato chip but without potato... entirely animal cells. Was very umami and bouillon tasting!

I liked that it really opened my eyes to what products could look like if guided by the tech rather than guided by what consumers already know. (Cells grow in 2D sheets pretty easily compared to 3D)

Gemmabeta2 karma

This is a bit of a left field question, but in the 50s to the 80s, every other science-fiction writer (such as Isaac Asimov and Company) was convinced that the food of the future was some type vat-grown yeast products engineering to taste like anything under the sun.

That idea seems to have disappeared without a trace, was there no interest in that avenue of research or was such a thing simply impossible to achieve?

ishadatar1 karma

This is pure conjecture but I think this period coincided with the rapid development of flavors (and dyes) from chemistry (which the current FDA novel ingredients regulations are based upon, which are really more set up for chemistry than for biology).

And so I think this fixation on making things in vats that taste like anything really came from seeing this happen.

sorif2 karma

Cellular agriculture is an ideal technology for growing food in space/Mars. Given that you work with XPRIZE, and that Peter Diamandis is a friend of Elon Musk, who has a brother (Kimbal) investing in food tech... Could we see some kind of collaboration there? Have you made any moves?

ishadatar3 karma

We need help with this!!! Grimes tweeted at us a long time ago so we thought that might be the path to Elon but yeah... not yet. We don't know how to make a move! Any suggestions?

Prestigious-Belt93822 karma

I love you all and the effort you are engaging in. I live in the US, is there a place where I can travel to and eat lab grown meat, Is yes where and how much will that cost?

ishadatar3 karma

WildType is setting up a tasting room in SF, they make a pretty stunning salmon sashimi (which I am dying to try).

Frosty_Teeth2 karma

Can I haz cheezburger?

ishadatar6 karma

do you want fries with that

WildlifePhysics2 karma

What are your thoughts on the potential of growing growth factors from plants? Do you think this could have a significant impact on the economics of growing meat in the lab?

ishadatar1 karma

I'm very into it! I think there are a fair bit of technical considerations w/r/t which factors can be grown in plants because plants have cell walls (I am barely science literate anymore so I hope one of the research fellows chimes in) but I think it's a very important opportunity to explore.

TheDadThatGrills2 karma

How long until you expect local "Meat Breweries" become economically feasible?

ishadatar4 karma

A long ass time lol.

Seriously I have no idea.. probably depends most on price point and how high end this place would be. Pilot plants are being built RIGHT NOW but I don't think companies would start going local right away.

No_Relationship55182 karma

Hi! I'm an undergraduate student studying Biomedical Engineering, and I'm excited about how the cultured meat industry is progressing and want to be able to use my degree to help advance the field someday. Unfortunately, the industry is largely driven by the private sector and cell agriculture is not an area of research or discipline in most academic settings, including my university. So I'd like to ask, how can students like me find ways to gain experience in cell ag and enter the field?

ishadatar1 karma

Yes, get in touch with NH! Also Tufts University just received funding to pursue cell ag from the USDA: https://now.tufts.edu/articles/tufts-receives-10-million-grant-help-develop-cultivated-meat

And UCDavis received funding earlier this year: https://biotech.ucdavis.edu/cultivated-meat-consortium-cmc

So those are two other places you can keep tabs on! ALSO! The research fellows at Tufts - u/natalierubio and u/AJamesStout have been running a cell ag-focused course which you could enroll in!

Electronic-Housing-21 karma

What has been the biggest struggle and the greatest success, in attracting donations/funding for New Harvest? It must be hard to attract funding for such a niche specific non profit. I've been following for some years and super impressed what you did with relatively little money.

ishadatar1 karma

The biggest struggle is that we are not independently wealthy, and we chose to create a non-profit that does pretty big budget stuff (ie fund scientific research). Most science foundations would not have to fundraise because they would be founded alongside or by a major benefactor. I'm also just some random person who didn't have any high powered connections with wealthy or influential people.

BUT in some ways that is our greatest success - that this field was really created by individuals who believed in the tech, whether they donated $5/mo or $500/mo. Compared to a lot of other non-profit leaders I know, we're pertty well off because we have a mix of high net worth foundations (not a lot but a couple who we love to work with) and many, many, individual contributors. Several companies donate to us too! I feel like our greatest success is that we've been able to mobilize so many to come together to make this happen. It makes what we do a movement, and not just research.

And I really appreciate the kudos on doing so much with so little. I think that comes from our conviction to focus on empowering emerging leaders and really focus on PEOPLE vs PROJECTS. Projects come and go, but people ignite ongoing change, and become champions in the long, long run. Our work has lasting impact because we are live and breathe this!

nick18122161 karma

I’m a big fan of what you’re doing. Phthalates and endocrine disruptors are a major problem in most food today. Is there any research or data about phthalates or endocrine disruptors in cultivated meat, milk, and other animal products?

ishadatar2 karma

None that I have seen. There are a ton of open safety questions left to answer.

We attempted to map a road to safety demonstration here, alongside 87 individuals at 50 companies (with zero NDAs signed!) https://www.authorea.com/doi/full/10.22541/au.161246496.61092571/v2

bev-a-tron1 karma

Do the cultured meat cells replicate forever (like the HeLA ones), or do you have to start over with "fresh" cells once in a while?

ishadatar1 karma

Those are two different approaches that different companies could take. In general we observed that companies in the EU tend to want to return to the source frequently (because the cells would not have to be modified) and some of the companies in the US were open to genetic modification so returning to the source animal would not be necessarily (at least as frequently). Which basically reflects each regions' attitudes about GMOs.

Lots of cell banking in freezers can happen too.

TL;DR both are options!

Smokey_Katt1 karma

Are you naming any of them Chicken Little (ref: Frederick Pohl)?

ishadatar1 karma

Love this reference.

Eat JUST named their origin chicken Ian (or so the story goes)...
Mildly interesting is that most meat that we eat is from female animals so that was already kind of a different thing enabled by cell ag.

I think u/natalierubio and u/AJamesStout had names (or at least numbers) for their origin animals too??

nowyourdoingit1 karma

How is the non-profit structured? Do you license the IP which is developed?

ishadatar7 karma

These are the questions to ask!!

We're a 501(c)(3) funded entirely by philanthropy. We also own founding shares in Perfect Day Foods and Clara Foods because we were fairly hands on when they got started. But we're completely independent now.

All of our IP generation happens in universities. We mandate that our researchers make all of their IP open access.

It sounds really awesome but it's super hard and not 100% in practice because universities essentially don't believe in open source and are hardcore engines of IP generation. So we try to do what we can in our power to keep things open access and public, but our ability to control that somewhat comes down to the culture of openness that our researchers are committed to as individuals. It's always been a dream to open our own brick and mortar lab cause that would be the only way we could truly commit to a collaborative open sharing/publishing/IP environment.

(And we do this because the "public" of cell ag is horribly underrepresented and matters so much...do we want a whole food system to be entirely proprietary? I'd say NO)

nowyourdoingit1 karma

This is awesome. What is the funding gap to opening your own lab?

ishadatar2 karma

TBH prob like $50M.

Building a lab is expensive... maintaining it as well. Our current means of doing research through university grants allows us to use their infrastructure and support essentially just the project. (At the price of potential IP).

hailsatan666xoxo1 karma

Hi New harvest,

I've been following the cultured meat scene for a couple of years now and i've been getting more and more sceptical on the scalability of it all (no reactors above 100L for example). Additionally, there is the lovely opinion piece on thecounter recently that sums up some critical points (link: https://thecounter.org/lab-grown-cultivated-meat-cost-at-scale/)

How do you envision to tackle some of these scaling issues?

natalierubio1 karma

throwing out something new... maybe we could scale down, instead of up! our lab at tufts JUST TODAY received a phase 1 grant from NASA (https://www.deepspacefoodchallenge.org/winners#uswinners) to create a cultured meat production system for space travel, so obviously it'll be quite small-scale.

maybe small-scale is ok? a 2-L keurig-like reactor that a churns out freshly ground meat for a household?

& a more conventional answer - some of the scaling issues in that article referred to challenges with keeping sterility at larger volumes. one solution could be that some cells produce antimicrobial peptides, so perhaps cultured meat CAN have its own kind of immune system to combat contamination.

ishadatar1 karma

WUTTTTT news to me.. CONGRATS!

ishadatar1 karma

To me the only way forward is shared facilities for scale up, or entirely entities focused on scale up work. Scale up is just so inherently expensive, because each scale up is basically an ultra expensive huge experiment. We need a lot more collective energy around this.

I am optimistic because of vaccine scale up. A lot of vaccine research demands large scale growth of animal cells. I think cell ag could ride the vaccine coattails especially since there is funding interest there (for now).

I also think the field needs to collectively decide that if we want IP at all (I don't), the IP should live in the "software" (cells/tissues/media) and not in the "hardware" (equipment and machinery). It will help us go farther a lot faster, imho.