Laboratory-grown coffee eliminates beans and deforestation

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As the world’s population continues to grow, the pressure we place on the environment in our efforts to feed all of those hungry mouths increases, and part of the solution may lie in the lab. We’ve seen how lab-grown meats like rib eye steaks, burgers, or chicken fillets could help reduce the huge environmental costs associated with animal production, and now we’re seeing exciting possibilities emerging around it. one of the most popular drinks in the world – coffee.

Almost 10 billion kg (22 billion pounds) of coffee is product worldwide every year, and demand is only expected to increase in the decades to come. And meeting that demand will require creating more space to grow coffee plants, which means clearing large areas so that they can thrive in direct sunlight. Make it worse studies have shown that coffee is very sensitive to climate change, with much of the land suitable for its production needing to be drastically reduced in a warmer world. Rising temperatures also make diseases and pests more common.

The global coffee industry therefore faces serious sustainability issues, but another means of production may be under consideration. The technology mirrors other forms of ‘cell farming’, where products are created using cell cultures rather than actual animals or plants, and therefore involves only a fraction of energy emissions. , water and carbon.

Researcher brews lab coffee at VTT

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“The idea is to use biotechnology rather than conventional agriculture for food production and therefore to propose alternative routes less dependent on unsustainable practices”, explains Dr Heiko Rischer, head of plant biotechnology at the institute. Mountain Bike Research Center from Finland, New Atlas. “For example, these solutions have a smaller water footprint and less transport is required due to local production. There is also no seasonal dependence or need for pesticides.

Rischer led a research project at VTT to produce laboratory-grown coffee, using cells harvested from real plants. Last week, those efforts started to pay off, with the team producing their very first cup, which Rischer said smelled and tasted just like regular coffee.

Creation of coffee cell cultures at VTT
Creation of coffee cell cultures at VTT

Mountain biking

“The process uses real cells from coffee plants,” he tells us. “Initially, a cell culture is started from a part of the plant, for example a leaf. The cells formed are propagated and multiplied on a specific nutrient medium. Ultimately, the cells are transferred to a bioreactor to from which the biomass is then harvested. The cells are dried and roasted, then the coffee can be brewed. “

As with meats grown in the lab, ambitious research groups and companies are working on more sustainable coffee production in the lab. Compound Foods is an American startup that recently announced $ 4.5 million in seed funding to develop bean-free coffee by extracting molecules through “synthetic biology,” according to TechCrunch.

Atomo is another US-based startup with aspirations in the space. He’s a little further along on his journey, having raised $ 11.6 million in two seed rounds over the past two years, and claims to have reverse engineered the coffee bean to produce a less molecular blend. bitter than conventional coffee. This process, he says, uses 94 percent less water and generates 93 percent less carbon emissions than conventional coffee production.

So how long before these durable coffee cups end up in the hands of coffee lovers around the world? Lab-grown coffee is expected to first go through regulatory approval from the relevant authorities in different markets, although Atomo has already outlined its launch plans in 2021, so it might not be that far away. Rischer, meanwhile, is working on a much more conservative schedule.

“We aim to join forces with industrial partners in order to develop a real product,” he says. “In the most optimistic scenario, a commercial product could be ready in four years.”

The video below gives an overview of MTB technology.

Coffee culture in Finland

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