The Advent of Biofabrication
The time will come when we can “grow” body parts to replace those that are no longer working or stricken by disease. Some scientists, Andras included, have introduced “biofabrication,” which he simply defines as “growing cells to make tissues and organs.”
It’s not impossible for us to, one day, actually need more food than what we can produce. According to Andras, for the current population of about seven-billion, we need around 60 billion animals per year to survive. Another interesting fact is that the average American eats about 270 pounds of meat per year, equal to about 1,000 burgers [per year] by a conservative estimate.
There is more to the issue of food shortage than livestock. Animal husbandry has since advanced the advent of genetically-modified organisms, or “GMOs,” which are genetically-altered to serve the purpose of the consumers. This does not benefit us in the long run, as the chemicals used for the animals, which are not meant to be eaten, are nevertheless transferred to us upon consumption. Indeed, much has been said about the way this generation’s diet is contributing to the growing prevalence of cancer. And there’s also the desire to treat animals, which are sentient beings, humanely. A cow that is both mentally and physically fit produces healthier meat.
However, we wallow in our livestock’s own waste and suffer the consequences of treating them cruelly. What goes around comes around, indeed! But how can we alleviate this growing concern? Andras comes to the rescue by “growing” meat; if we can alter organisms so they serve our purpose, why not improve our technology so we can literally cultivate meat?
Parting ways from “Organovo” gave Andras more time to work on his meat-culture endeavor. But, are people really ready to taste meat that’s grown and not taken from an animal? At this point, it’s not likely. But his years of research did not go to waste as he channeled his resources into developing leather, which is easier to culture and doesn’t require the intricacies of meat. People, he thought, would be more willing to wear nouveau fashion than taste exotic food.
Andras is a man ahead of his time, and his is a good start towards food evolution. It’s time we do something about the way we care for our resources and the planet. Who would have thought it could start from growing meat?
Early Life and Career
Andras Forgacs is the son of Gabor Forgacs, a Hungarian-born academician and scientist. Not much is known of Andras’s early life, except that he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Harvard University. He also secured an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business.
From the start, he was on his way to becoming a businessman. Although business was his forte, it did not mean that he didn’t share his father’s penchant for the contemporary; Andras has also been involved with start-up companies as an angel investor.
Andras was, above all, a banker. He founded Citigroup’s corporate and investment banking e-commerce group, which soon became an award-winning arm of the company for its cutting-edge financial technology products. The group also had a reputable record for helping corporate clients overcome financial challenges. He then became a consultant in “McKinsey & Company,” a bio-pharma and private equity company based in New York. He also served as Managing Director at Richmond Global.
Later, he co-founded “Resolution Project,” a non-profit international organization, and became its Chairman Emeritus. He is also affiliated as a Kauffman Fellow at the Center for Venture Education and serves as a Team Member in the Council on Foreign Relations.
Andras would become well-known around the world for “Organovo,” his biofabrication company which utilizes a modern laboratory to grow tissues to replace deceased tissues. According to its website, they contribute to the medical world by:
• Partnering with biopharmaceutical companies and academic medical centers to design, build, and validate more predictive in vitro tissues for disease modeling and toxicology.
• Giving researchers something they have never had before: the opportunity to test drugs on functional human tissues before ever administering the drug to a living person; bridging the gulf between preclinical testing and clinical trials.
• Creating functional, three dimensional tissues that can be implanted or delivered into the human body to repair or replace damaged or diseased tissues. (SOURCE: Organovo)
Organovo’s bio-printing captured not only the world of medicine, but the mainstream population. It’s a breakthrough in every sense of the word. If developed further, we could see a future in which people will actually be able to replace ailing body parts.
A man as dynamic as Andras could only sit still for a moment. As “Organovo” became more widely-recognized in the field of science, he moved on with his father to set up “Modern Meadow.” While still active at Organovo, Andras often heard suggestions/questions about “growing” meat. He thought it was an incredulous idea back then.
As he conducted further research on the state of our food system, Andras discovered a serious need for action. His website breaks down the problems:
• Each year, nearly 300 million tons of meat is consumed worldwide. By 2050, this amount is expected to exceed 500 million tons.
• The average American alone eats over 270 pounds of meat per year (equivalent to more than 1000 burgers).
• Meat is one of the most environmentally taxing resources – animal farming takes up one third of all available (ice-free) land on the planet. It is the leading contributor to climate change via greenhouse gas emissions.
• Industrial farming has also concentrated livestock to such an extent that it has significant consequences for food security (i.e. preventing disease outbreaks), the environment and animal welfare. (SOURCE: Modern Meadow)
Even now, with 7 billion people, we are already suffering the consequences of food demand. Many, however, believe it is not right to use genetic mutation to make our livestock bigger and fatter. Moreover, greenhouse gas increases as the waste from these food sources contaminates our air and waters. In a sense, we are consuming our own waste.
So, what if we could “grow” meat rather than depend on livestock for sustenance? If we could cultivate body parts, could we not cultivate a source of meat? Soon, the father-and-son tandem began cultivating meat using biofabrication principles and methodologies, and the two were able to grow it simply by taking cells from living animals and cultivating them in the laboratory. As far as appearance and basic makeup were concerned, they were successful. Gabor participated in a TED Talk in which he grilled the lab-grown meat and ate it in front of the audience. He’s still alive today, of course, which is great assurance that we’re on the right track and there is much potential in meat-growing.
Andras, being a businessman, thought of another way to benefit from this new technology, as we use animals for clothing and accessories in addition to food. Many celebrities have been criticized by animal rights activists for wearing leather made from animal hide or skin; so, why not culture leather? If growing meat was possible, leather would be easier because it is two-dimensional.
According to Andras’s TED Talk:
"To grow leather, we begin by taking cells from an animal, through a simple biopsy. The animal could be a cow, lamb, or even something more exotic. This process does no harm, and Daisy the cow can live a happy life. We then isolate the skin cells and multiply them in a cell culture medium. This takes millions of cells and expands them into billions. And we then coax these cells to produce collagen, as they would naturally. This collagen is the stuff between cells. It's natural connective tissue. It's the extracellular matrix, but in leather, it's the main building block. And what we next do is we take the cells and their collagen and we spread them out to form sheets, and then we layer these thin sheets on top of one another, like phyllo pastry, to form thicker sheets, which we then let mature. And finally, we take this multilayered skin and through a shorter and much less chemical tanning process, we create leather." (SOURCE: TED Talks)
Aside from sparing animals from being slaughtered for their skin, growing leather is also more efficient:
"This leather can be grown in the shape of a wallet, a handbag or a car seat. It is not limited to the irregular shape of a cow or an alligator.
And because we make this material, we grow this leather from the ground up, we can control its properties in very interesting ways. This piece of leather is a mere seven tissue layers thick, and as you can see, it is nearly transparent. And this leather is 21 layers thick and quite opaque. You don't have that kind of fine control with conventional leather. And we can tune this leather for other desirable qualities, like softness, breathability, durability, elasticity and even things like pattern. We can mimic nature, but in some ways also improve upon it. This type of leather can do what today's leather does, but with imagination, probably much more." (SOURCE: TED Talks)
Andras does not share a pessimistic view of the future of food; he believes in more sustainable ways of farming and engineering. In addition, he and his father are still working to make the leather more cost-efficient by streamlining the process.
Who knows? Any day now, we could be eating and wearing organic materials grown in the lab with no waste, no blood and no killing.
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Resolution Project
- Richmond Global
- Center for Venture Education (Kauffman Fellow)
- Council on Foreign Relations (Team Member)
- Voxiva, Inc.
Awards and Achievements
- 2010: The “Bioprinter” by Organovo was named one of the top inventions by TIME
- 2011: Co-founded “Modern Meadow”
- 2012: Organovo was recognized by MIT Technology Review on its TR50 list of “Most Innovative Companies”
- 2013: Modern Meadow was recognized as "One to Watch" among all presenting companies at FutureMed
- 2013: Organovo was recognized [alongside SpaceX, Nest, Huawei, etc.] as one of the top 10 companies that could change the world by solving difficult problems
- 2013: Modern Meadow was recognized as one of the “100 Brilliant Companies” by Entrepreneur Magazine and featured by Entrepreneur Magazine as "The Company Leading the Future of Farming"
- Co-founded Organovo with his father
- Served as Managing Director with Richmond Global
- Served as a consultant in the New York office of McKinsey & Company
- Served as a founding member of Citigroup’s corporate and investment banking e-commerce group
- Co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the international non-profit “Resolution Project”
- Holds a Bachelor of Arts with honors from Harvard University
Modern Meadow (Management)
Modern Meadow (Problem)
Modern Meadow (Opportunity)
TED Talks (Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals)
LinkedIn (Andras Forgacs)
Organovo (About Organovo)
Nanalyze (Organovo Co-Founder Resigns from Board)
TED Blog (How to print meat and leather: Andras Forgacs at TEDGlobal 2013)
Businessweek (Andras Forgacs MBA)
TEDMED (Coming surprisingly soon: Bioengineered leather)
Next Nature (Q&A with CEO of In Vitro Meat Company “Modern Meadow”)
Reason (3D Meat Printing Company CEO Refuses to Print Human Flesh, Is Otherwise Awesome)
Recorded Future (Discover the Incoming Business of Human Organs On-Demand)
Awaken (Can Artificial Meat Save The World?)