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The beauty of exponential cell growth is that you start with one, and then the next day, you get two. … Obviously, it’s never going to be 100% efficient, but we have a lot of power in that exponential growth. If we use it appropriately, we can produce just unlimited amounts of meat.

Marie Gibbons

First, decide on the type of animal. Next, pick the cell type. Then take a small, painless biopsy, and put the cells in a solution that makes them feel like they’re still in the body. Once the cells are in this comfortable state, they’ll proliferate. One cell becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, and so on. Continue until you have enough cells to make a burger, a nugget, a sausage, or a piece of bacon, then concentrate them until they bind into solid meat.

It’s all surprisingly straightforward in principle according to Marie Gibbons​, a research fellow with The Good Food Institute, who has been researching how to improve this process at Harvard Medical School. We might even see clean meat sold commercially within a year.

The real technical challenge is developing large bioreactors and cheap solutions so that we can make huge volumes and drive down costs.

This interview covers the science and technology involved at each stage of clean meat production, the challenges and opportunities that face cutting-edge researchers like Marie, and how you could become one of them.

Marie’s research focuses on turkey cells. But as she explains, with clean meat the possibilities extend well beyond those of traditional meat. Chicken, cow, pig, but also panda – and even dinosaurs could be on the menus of the future.

Today’s episode is hosted by Natalie Cargill, a barrister in London with a background in animal advocacy. Natalie and Marie also discuss:

  • Why Marie switched from being a vet to developing clean meat
  • For people who want to dedicate themselves to animal welfare, how does working in clean meat fare compared to other career options? How can people get jobs in the area?
  • How did this become an established field?
  • How important is the choice of animal species and cell type in this process?
  • What are the biggest problems with current production methods?
  • Is this kind of research best done in an academic setting, a commercial setting, or a balance between the two?
  • How easy will it be to get consumer acceptance?
  • How valuable would extra funding be for cellular agriculture?
  • Can we use genetic modification to speed up the process?
  • Is it reasonable to be sceptical of the possibility of clean meat becoming financially competitive with traditional meat any time in the near future?

The 80,000 Hours podcast is produced by Keiran Harris.

Image credits: Featured image – the range of bioreactors available from Sartorius. Social share image – figure 2 from GFI’s Mapping Emerging Industries:
Opportunities in Clean Meat
.

Key points

The first question to ask yourself is what type of animal you want to start growing meat from. I chose a turkey, but there are clearly lots of different animals out there, be they farm animals, so your turkeys, and your ducks, and your chickens, and your cows, and your pigs, and various types of fish. I think another kind of cool, exciting possibility is the fact that it’s not just limited to farm animals with these possibilities. We can be growing panda meat if we want to, if anybody’s interested in eating panda. Or, relevant to something that I’m looking at, if you’re interested in mammoth or dinosaur meat, the ultimate paleo diet. There’s a lot of possibilities with that that traditional meat just doesn’t offer us right now.

I’m not sure how different the openness of academia is compared to working for a company, other than the fact that clearly, once I am able to publish something, it will then be public knowledge. But there’s always the risk that something that I’m working really hard on is something that several other companies have already figured out. So, I guess it’s a matter of what your interests are. I think in terms of figuring things out that are completely novel, have nothing to do with anything that you individually, personally have done before, nothing to do with what others have researched before, then the basic science is necessary in academia, where you have access to these great minds and these very expensive pieces of equipment and the freedom to explore different alternatives without that time crunch.

At the same time, when you’re working with something that has been proven to work, and it’s a matter of optimizing, and I think that clean meat is falling into this category every single day as more and more research is taking place, I think that it may be better to happen in the industry. Not only because of the fast pace, but at the same time, I think that people that could be very valuable to this field are going to be expected to be compensated very well as well. While academia is certainly cushy in some respects, you’re definitely going to get a bigger paycheck when you’re working in industry. So, that’s something that should be taken into consideration, too.

This small group of people that are willing to pay a little bit extra are going to make a huge difference for this movement because as wonderful as it would be to assume and to see everyone deciding to put more money into something that is more environmentally efficient and more ethically produced, it’s something that just isn’t happening for a variety of reasons, be it because people can’t afford to, or people aren’t aware. Unfortunately, in some cases, people just don’t care, but I would hope that that’s not the majority of the reason behind it.

The people that do, that are willing to put a little extra money behind this to pay for something that is more expensive, in the long run, that is going to help drive the cost of clean meat down to the price where people can choose … If their choice is, for what type of meat they want, is based solely on cost, which I think a fair amount of people, that is their determining factor is cost and taste and convenience, then we will be able to get to a point where, if they’re sitting in the supermarket, or standing in the supermarket, and they’re looking at something that was made in a bioreactor versus something that was slaughtered and taken from an animal, they will decide to take that product from a bioreactor because it is cheaper. I really believe that that’s going to happen. But in order for it to happen, we do need that initial support from people that are willing to pay a little bit extra, but it won’t always be that way.

Learn more about relevant career options

Transcript

Rob Wiblin: Hi listeners – this is the 80,000 Hours podcast, the show about the world’s most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them. I’m Rob Wiblin, Director of Research at 80,000 Hours, and usual host of the show – but I’m off this week, so today’s episode has been ably handled by Natalie Cargill, a barrister in London with a background in animal advocacy.

She did a great job, so enjoy!

~Transition music~

Natalie Cargill: Welcome podcast listeners. This is Natalie Cargill, not your usual host, Rob Wiblin, I’m afraid, though I do hope to emulate his hard-hitting podcast demeanor. I will do my best, Rob.

Today I’m speaking about the science of clean meat, that is meat grown in a cell culture instead of in an animal, and what you can do to get involved. For those of you who aren’t familiar with clean meat and why it might be so important, I’d recommend you check out first of all episode 20 of the 80K podcast. We speak to Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute, on inventing outstanding meat substitutes to end speciesism and factory farming.

Today I’m speaking with Marie Gibbons. Marie is a research fellow with The Good Food Institute and a physiology graduate student at North Carolina State University’s poultry science department. She’s currently exploring large-scale clean meat production methods under Dr. George Church at Harvard Medical School. Marie has spent the past two years studying clean poultry production, focusing on turkey and chicken muscle cell proliferation and in using animal-free media additives.

Marie has 10 years of veterinary experience working in companion, exotic, and most recently, farm animal medicine. After witnessing firsthand the routine treatment of animals on farms, Marie declined her admission into North Carolina’s College of Veterinary Medicine and began researching clean meat. She now intends to replace all animal products with ones derived from plant- and cell-based sources. Marie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Marie Gibbons: Well, thank you so much for having me.

Natalie Cargill: What I’d really like to do in this podcast is to give our listeners the nitty-gritty breakdown of the science involved at each stage in the clean meat production process and to outline the challenges at each stage in the process and the opportunities that face cutting-edge researchers like yourself. Before we get into that, I would just love to hear a bit more about you, your background, how you got into this, why you got into this, and what exactly it is you’re working on at the moment.

Marie Gibbons: Yeah, absolutely. I actually grew up on a farm in North Carolina, and it was a very different type of farm. Normally, when you think of farms, you think of people raising animals for food, raising plants for food, but the farm that I grew up on was more of a hobby farm. All of the animals that we had on the farm where I … While they were still farm animals, they were companions rather than sources of food. I grew up with baby chicks in a cage in my bedroom. I really didn’t ever see that much of a difference between a dog or a pig, so I guess growing up in that way where, in the way that most people see cats and dogs, is kind of how I see farm animals.

When I was introduced to the slaughterhouse videos and started learning more about factory farming, I was obviously pretty horrified, similar to how most people feel about the dog meat industry. I quickly became vegetarian when I was in high school, and I was also really interested in science. I always have been. Ironically, in a lot of my science courses, I started learning about the environmental impact that large-scale meat production has on this planet, as well as the public safety concerns. It just kind of clicked with me that, given my interest with science and my passion for animal welfare and the concerns that I had with the process of large-scale meat production … It clicked with me that I wanted to spend my life in a career that involved making this system better.

I decided that I wanted to become a veterinarian. I applied to vet school. Like you said, I spent about 10 years working in different veterinary hospitals, different zoos. Up until recently, I was working as a large-animal veterinary technician. That was the goal, that I was going to kind of help fix the system from the inside. As a large-animal vet, I could promote more humane practices, things like using more pain medication when they’re doing body alterations, as well as more environmentally friendly practices and figuring out ways to make the process a little bit cleaner using a little bit less antibiotics, maybe giving the animals more room.

That was the hope, but during my personal experiences working on farms … To be clear, the farms that I spent my time on were not factory farms. They were not intensive units. These were local, family-owned, pasture-raised, some of them were even animal welfare approved. These were the Old MacDonald farms that you hear about, and we were still cutting horns off of baby goats and literally ripping testicles out of baby pigs and cows. I want to make it clear to people that the testicles do not get cut out. They are ripped out because if you were to cut off the testicles, then the animal would most likely bleed out.

These things are done without pain medication. I was lucky enough to be with a veterinarian who felt that it was necessary to use pain medication. I’m glad that the field is moving in that direction, but a lot of these procedures are not performed by vets, not performed with pain medication. It was just very clear to me that if things like that were going on in these pristine, happy farms, then what’s going on in the factory farms? I couldn’t even imagine.

The breaking point for me was one day when we were called out to a cattle ranch. A mama cow had a really bad case of pinkeye, a really bad eye infection, and her eye had to come out. There were not a lot of options. The farmer wasn’t willing to put money into having her brought to the veterinary hospital where she could be properly anesthetized and have the eye removed that way. Additionally, we couldn’t anesthetize her in the field because there would be too much of a risk of her not waking up again.

Alternatively, we couldn’t euthanize her because she was not being seen as a sentient creature. She was being seen as the amount of money that she would be worth as a meat product, which was around $800. We couldn’t just let the eye stay because that would lead to even more horrible disease that would most likely spread into her brain, and she would die a horrible, horrible death. The only option that we were left with was to have her eye removed while she was still conscious, so I spent two hours restraining this cow while she had her eye cut out of her head. That was when it really …

When you go through something like that, you kind of change your perspective on how things work in the world and what’s important to you. It was after that that I realized that, as fantastic as it would be to be a veterinarian and that I could definitely make a regional change that way, that I needed to do something more. I needed to do something that could potentially lead to global change so nothing like that would ever happen again to any animal. That’s what led me to the field of cellular agriculture and clean meat.

From there, I wrote a grant proposal, and was funded to get my master’s in large-scale poultry cell production. That’s what I’ve been working on ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to head up to Harvard Medical School for my final semester and finish up some research there. I’m learning a lot of really exciting things in terms of the genetics behind large-scale production. That’s how I got involved.

Natalie Cargill: I’m curious. When you first decided to apply for the grant to work on clean meat, did it seem like something that was really speculative and perhaps would never go anywhere, and potentially the science would never work out? Or, at that point, was it really an established route to replacing, ultimately, factory farming?

Marie Gibbons: Well, to be honest, I’ve never really seen it as something that wouldn’t work. It’s just there’s too many benefits to when it is successful and just the science behind it. While we haven’t gotten it to a scalable level yet, it’s really not that hard to make meat. Yeah, to be honest, I never really thought about the possibility of it not succeeding.

Natalie Cargill: In broad terms, could you outline stage by stage for absolute beginners how clean meat is produced?

Marie Gibbons: Absolutely. The first question to ask yourself is what type of animal you want to start growing meat from. I chose a turkey, but there are clearly lots of different animals out there, be they farm animals, so your turkeys, and your ducks, and your chickens, and your cows, and your pigs, and various types of fish. I think another kind of cool, exciting possibility is the fact that it’s not just limited to farm animals with these possibilities. We can be growing panda meat if we want to, if anybody’s interested in eating panda. Or, relevant to something that I’m looking at, if you’re interested in mammoth or dinosaur meat, the ultimate paleo diet. There’s a lot of possibilities with that that traditional meat just doesn’t offer us right now.

Once you have decided on the specific species that you want to make meat from, the next step would be to determine the cell type. If you were to take a slab of meat and put it under a microscope or do an analysis of all the different types of cells that are inside meat, you will find that it’s not just muscle. There’s fat. There’s connective tissue, which is things like collagen. You can think of it as skin. There are blood vessels that are needed in order to get oxygen and nutrients to the tissue. There are neurons, especially in skeletal muscle. That’s how we’re able to move is to voluntarily think about what we want to do, and then those neurons send signals to the muscle. Of course, there’s a lot of fat in different types of meat, and that plays a role in the taste and texture and caloric content and whatnot.

So, focusing on a specific cell type. I am personally working on the muscle side of things for several different reasons. In the long term, it’s going to be important that we are able to grow all of these different cell types when we want to have a product that is 100% animal based and 100% the same in terms of appearance and texture, and if you were to take a clean meat product and compare it microscopically or chemically to a traditional product … When we want to be able to do that and say that these are the exact same thing, we will need to know how to cultivate all these different cell types.

I guess just going down my own timeline as an example, once you have picked your species and picked your cell type, first you have to get your hands on those cells. For me, I did a muscle biopsy, something about the size of a sesame seed, half of the size of a grain of rice. Very small, something that could be done under anesthesia with a veterinarian. In my book, I would consider that a humane biopsy, a humane procedure, especially given the potential that that one procedure would have on future populations of turkeys, but there are other options for that biopsy as well, which we can get into a little bit later on.

Once you have taken a biopsy, or isolated the cells, if you will, then it’s time to put them into conditions that make them think that they are still inside the turkey. That involves the correct temperature, the correct pH level, and the correct type of nutrients that allow the cells to be happy. When I say that, kind of maintain their structure, make sure all of their membranes are still functioning, make sure that they have all of the vitamins and minerals that they need to protect themselves and to be able to transport different proteins in and out of the cell.

That right now is something that, while in academia unfortunately, to my understanding, is mainly based on serum, the media additive that we rely on most is serum for the purpose of clean meat, I believe that there are quite a few companies that have found serum-free alternatives. In terms of academia, there are quite a bit of serum-free media options for different cell types. I’m personally experimenting with some serum-free formulations for muscle cells, so I will be sure to keep you updated. It’s obviously something that needs to be addressed before we can be scaling this up and feeding it to people, because we can’t be using serum if we want to be taking animals out of the equation.

Once you have these cells in a state where they think that they are still in the body, then they will proliferate. They will double. So, one cell will become two cells, two becomes four, and so on and so forth. You allow them to do that until you have enough cells to make a burger, or a nugget, or a sausage, or a piece of bacon. Then from there, you allow them to differentiate. That is the second phase of muscle growth where the cells stop growing, and they actually fuse together and form these long, tube-like structures called myotubes. If you have enough myotubes lined up together, you get a muscle fiber. You have enough muscle fibers together, and there is your muscle organ, your skeletal muscle organ. Again, this isn’t including the fat and the neurons, but it’s definitely a start. I think that including fat and neurons and blood into the product … There are a lot of different ways of going about that.

Then from there, it’s a matter of do you want it fried? Do you want it grilled? Do you want to eat it raw? Yeah, like I said, the process of making meat really is pretty simple. The bottlenecks that we’re experiencing is the costs mostly associated with the media and just the process of scaling up. Because, like I said, while making meat is easy, making a lot of meat is quite a bit harder, so that’s what we’re focusing on now.

Natalie Cargill: If I’m correct in my layman’s summary, you take a small biopsy of cells painlessly and humanely from an animal, and you put them in conditions where they think they’re still in that animal, which, sort of putting them in nutritious goo. Sorry to use that phrase, but if that sounds right or not, let me know. The cells then proliferate, double, expand, and at some point become muscle cells by solidifying in some way to become muscle cells. Then, they’re harvested, and then they’re meat. Is that a fair, if botched, layman’s summary of the process?

Marie Gibbons: I couldn’t have said it better myself, Natalie.

Natalie Cargill: I think you could, Marie, but thank you. I guess what I’d like to do now is to go back through the process but asking more detailed questions about each area, really. If we start with the cell species, which species do you think it is best to focus on? I’m sure lots of people would like to eat dinosaur and panda. I’m not sure I’d like to eat panda, to be honest, but I suppose the considerations in terms of which is the best species would be a function of how hard it is to crack the science, how expensive it would be, and importantly, it seems, the scale of suffering experienced by each species in the current factory farming system.

As I understand it, for … Like, chickens and hens in general in particular suffer immensely at an immense scale on factory farms, so you might think there’s actually a very strong case to focus on chicken first. Then, balancing that against the consideration of what’s the market for the ground meat, for ground chicken meat? Because I understand that is the type of product that’s likely to hit the market first. All of those considerations taken into account, do you have any idea of what would be the best species to focus on?

Marie Gibbons: Natalie, that’s a great question. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very concrete answer for that because I think that, in the end, it’s going to be important that we’re able to make meat from every single one of these animals. Maybe not so much panda and dinosaur because people aren’t going around doing that. They’re not depleting panda populations and keeping them in factory farms in order to eat them, but unlike the lucky pandas, that is unfortunately the case for the majority of animals on this planet. So, asking which animal we should focus on first, I think there’s some really good points there in terms of the amount of animals that are going through this sort of lifestyle as well as the intense amount of suffering, how intense the suffering is.

Chickens, that is an obvious animal to focus on specifically because I believe chickens are the most consumed animals. However, fish … I believe we kill more fish. Maybe not for human consumption, but fish definitely are killed much more than chickens. While some fish are able to live out a natural lifestyle in the oceans before they are captured in nets and either die via suffocation, or blunt trauma to the head, or, depending on how deep in the ocean they are, having their innards explode due to the pressure change … I guess it’s hard to determine which animal to focus on first, because they are all in such need of this happening.

Another thing I think that people don’t think about as much is while chickens … They’re constantly in cages and being surrounded by others, and they’re just in this constant discomfort … That there are, in terms of the types of trauma that goes on … You have to think about, okay, would you rather be uncomfortable for your entire life? Or, would you rather go through several really traumatizing situations, such as the life of a dairy cow or a beef cow or a pig, where, when they’re born, they’re castrated, their teeth are removed, their horns are cut off? Some of them are lucky enough to be in the pasture, but the majority of them are also in very intense conditions. Then, if you’re a female, you are forcefully impregnated, often several times throughout your life. Then, you have to go through that experience of having children, only to have them taken away and slaughtered.

Some people may argue that cows and pigs don’t have the emotional capacity to have maternal instincts. I think that, evolutionarily, that is false. Because, when it comes to species fitness, you have to rely on the survival of your own children in order for your genes to be passed on, so it’s an innate … It’s an innate response to want your children to survive. Then, when it comes to the intelligence of these animals, I mean, pigs … They’re able to play video games. They can recognize themselves in a mirror. They’re at the same intelligence level as chimpanzees and dolphins in that respect. I mean, people argue that they’re smarter than your toddler.

In terms of selecting a species that you’d want to focus on, I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of them in terms of the farm animals. They all need our help. They all deserve a much better life than they have now, so whichever one … I would say whichever one you feel the most passionate about is the one that you should go for because that’s where you’re going to make the most difference.

Natalie Cargill: Perhaps we can post to the recording some links of some of the estimates that have been done. I know there have been some recent estimates by Sentience Institute or other organizations about the numbers of animals of different species that are killed, which might be able to inform the decision somewhat. But I agree that none of the animals, no farmed animal, deserves the life that they’re living, and to any extent that the way in which they’re suffering can be alleviated by reducing demand for meat is incredibly important.

Do you think, as there are a number of clean meat companies working on this at the moment, it would better for them to coordinate with one another to ensure that research on all different species are being represented between them, with some of them saying, “We’ll focus on chicken,” others saying, “We’ll focus on pigs”? Do you think this should be a function of where they’re based? It seems at the moment that all three companies in Israel are primarily focusing on chicken. Or, do you think that’s actually just something of an accident, and it’s not too important where we focus right now?

Marie Gibbons: The dream would obviously be for companies to collaborate and speak with each other about what they’re working on and how they can help each other. Whether or not that’s going on, I’m not in the position to speculate. I certainly hope so, and I believe that in the future … If it’s not going on right now, in the future it will start happening just because when you think about the reasons why the majority of these people are getting into these companies, it’s not to make a quick buck. It’s because they want to change the world, and collaboration, I think … We’d be able to change the world a lot quicker if we’re all working together to do it. Fingers crossed, if it’s not already happening, it will be soon in terms of collaboration. Maybe one company is focusing on a specific type of animal while other companies are focusing on different processes within the entire process, be it serum-free media production or the scale-up of cells in general, and then hopefully collaborating, working together on that.

In terms of the geography, I think that it’s interesting that a lot of the companies in Israel are focusing on chicken. I could definitely see benefits in that in terms of the physical location. If they’re nearby, it’s easy to hop over to the different areas and explore the labs and talk to people in person. I think in terms of location as well, I would say that if you wanted to start a company focusing on turkey growth or pig growth, it would be a good idea to do that in some place like North Carolina or Illinois where there’s a lot of researchers that are focused not on clean meat production but on the science behind meat production of those animals within the animal right now.

Those people that have 20 years of experience studying how to increase muscle mass in an animal are going to be very useful for us as well, and so I think being in that location definitely has its benefits. At the same time, being in places where biotechnology is on the rise, so Boston, London, Melbourne … These places are also really good ideas in terms of establishing a company if that’s something you’re interested in because you have access to not only a whole bunch of people that are interested in biotech, specifically medical-based biotech, but you have people that are already working on it. There are companies within those cities that are focused on scaling up the medical-based companies. Those are things that can be applied to the clean meat based companies as well.

Natalie Cargill: How transferrable do you think the knowledge of one species would be for another species? So, say, a particular group are really good at working with chicken cells. Would a lot of that knowledge also transfer over to other animals anyway in any event?

Marie Gibbons: I would certainly hope so. In my experience, I’ve worked with both chicken and turkey. Which you would think of as being very similar because they taste somewhat similar, but they do behave a bit differently. The media additives that I used were different. The way that the muscle cells look in the dish are different, and the way that I have to treat them. For example, turkey cells I can allow to grow until, say, 80 to 90% of that dish is full of cells before they start to fuse together.

Whereas with chicken cells … They form more of a mesh-like architecture, and so I have to remove them from the dish and put them into more dishes and split them up earlier on because they’ll start to differentiate earlier. I would say that yes and no, and it’s really something that we will have to test empirically. There will definitely be certain things that carry over in terms of, say, basal media, but in terms of rates of harvesting … That has already clearly shown to be different between chicken and turkey, so I would imagine that the differences will carry over to other species as well. Only one way to find out, right?

Natalie Cargill: Yeah. That’s really interesting. If we’ve discussed briefly the type of animal and the type of cell, perhaps we can move on to the cell type itself. As I understand it, there are a number of different cell types that you can start to work with, such as stem cells or cells that are already muscle cells. Could you explain the main options that are out there in terms of cell type?

Marie Gibbons: Absolutely. You’ve got your embryonic stem cells, your mesenchymal stem cells, your induced pluripotent stem cells, your muscle stem cells, or your satellite cells. Then, you have your somatic cells, so cells that have already kind of decided to be a specific cell type. I can go through each of those and talk about some of the pros and cons. The embryonic stem cells … They have the benefit of being able to turn into any cell type. I would see some of the cons of that being that in order to harvest those, you have to harvest them from an embryo, which is something that I would prefer not to do. If we can get cells from another source, then that would be my preference. But at the same time, it’s a matter of weighing out the options. If it turns out that embryonic stem cells have a very clear advantage over, say, satellite cells or a more somatic cell, then it might be worth the sacrifice.

I personally haven’t worked with embryonic stem cells, but I know that others have. Again, I think that another issue with the embryonic stem cells is that it can be difficult to keep them in that stem-like state. Again, as I mentioned, I haven’t worked with them, so this is only kind of what I’ve heard from others and what I’ve read, but kind of maintaining that stemness can be a challenge. While it’s doable at the moment, I believe it is somewhat expensive just in terms of the media additives that you have to use for it. Again though, I think that that’s something that’s definitely worth exploring. One of the reasons for that is because the other two cell types that are related to that, which are mesenchymal stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, face the same challenges.

If you wanted to work with mesenchymal stem cells, the benefit of that is those are a stem cell that you can get from an animal that is not an embryo. There’s fat cells, have a lot of mesenchymal stem cells in them. You can find them in muscle, and so, again, I think those are actually a little bit hardier to work with. They grow a little bit faster. They might be a little bit easier to maintain their stem-like state, but it is still difficult to keep them from turning into something that you don’t want them to turn into quite yet.

The same goes for induced pluripotent stem cells. Which the difference with an induced pluripotent stem cell is that this is how it relates to, well, it relates in one way, to the somatic cells. The somatic cells are cells that have already decided to turn into a specific cell. An induced pluripotent stem cell just … Or, Hampton Creek … They have been able to take cells from the tip of a feather and induce pluripotency and have them turn into a meat cell product. You can take skin cells and turn them into muscle cells through inducing pluripotency.

Something as simple as a cheek swab or a hair pluck … These are all really un-invasive protocols for cell isolation. I think it’s definitely worth looking into, especially if you’re concerned with the methods of biopsy isolation through a biopsy, through a muscle biopsy. Again, you have that benefit of these cells being pluripotent, so you can get them to turn into all the different cell types that you would want for a meat product. But at the same time, it can be difficult to keep them from turning into things that you don’t want or from turning into things too soon. At the same time, it is a little bit more of a process to get these cells to actually turn into things. You need to either alter their genetics by adding in more of the specific transcription factor directly into their genome, but to be fair, you can also do that through just adding in the molecules themselves into the media. I’m not sure what the efficiency rate is on that, but again, I’m certainly no stem cell expert.

This brings me to the muscle cells, the satellite cells, the muscle stem cells. That’s what I work with, so I have to disclose that I am a bit biased. Some of the benefits of these satellite cells is they are pretty much programmed to turn into muscle. When you have them, yes, it can be … You have to make sure that they don’t differentiate before you want them to, but that’s something that I personally feel really comfortable with. In my experience, it’s just a matter of making sure that they don’t get too crowded.

Because if you think about what’s going on inside your own muscle, your own meat, if you will, generally what happens, and the role of these satellite cells is, whenever your muscle breaks, whenever your muscle fibers tear … That can be for a variety of different reasons. You could be going through puberty. You could trip and fall down the stairs. You could be at the gym working out. No matter what the situation is, in the end, what’s happening on a microscopic level is your individual muscle fibers are tearing.

When that happens, your satellite cells, the muscle stem cells that I’m referring to … They get activated, and they move to that area where your muscle fiber has torn. They fill in that gap, and they do so by doubling, by proliferating. Once that happens, once the gap has been completely filled in and all of these muscle cells, all of these satellite cells, rather, are touching each other, that is kind of the signal for them to say, “Hey, we’re all here. We’ve filled this gap in. We can go ahead and fuse together and turn into a muscle fiber or fuse into and add on to this muscle fiber that we’re trying to either fix or make bigger.”

The process of the cells differentiating is in many ways triggered by the signals that they’re getting from the other cells as well as the physical contact that they’re having with those cells. In terms of keeping the muscle cells from differentiating, it’s a process that I understand very well that I’m very comfortable with, and so therefore, I’m an advocate for the muscle stem cell use. That being said, I’m sure that there are people out there that are very well versed in the differentiation process of induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells, and I definitely encourage anyone who is interested in using those cells to explore those possibilities further. Because just because I might think that satellite stem cells might be easier to work with, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other ones aren’t just as easy. It’s just they’re easiest for me.

In regards to the final cell type that I was referring to, the somatic cells, which we can use induced pluripotency to turn them into any sort of cell type … But another cool thing is specific somatic cells such as fibroblasts, which are responsible for making connective tissue. That’s something that you can turn into muscle without having to have them turn into a stem cell first, so you can take a fibroblast and directly … It’s a term called transdifferentiation. That’s as simple as adding a MyoD into the cell. MyoD is a … It’s a protein associated with myogenesis, muscle growth, and muscle differentiation.

Again, I’m not 100% sure of the efficiency of that, but it is a possibility. In these situations, when we’re working with low efficiencies, I think that there’s always, always potential room for that efficiency to increase. So, while I’m personally still working with satellite cells at the moment because that’s what I know, that’s what my experience is, I would definitely suggest exploring the other alternatives just given the fact that these cells have a lot more potential to turn into multiple types of cells. While satellite cells have shown to be pluripotent in that they can differentiate into osteoblasts, which are needed to make bone, they can produce lipids. That can be beneficial for meat production. Then, they can also turn into fibroblasts. I think that the other cell types are also definitely worth exploring, so I wouldn’t limit anyone’s curiosity on this subject.

Natalie Cargill: How much of an open question is it really around which cell type is preferable? Is it the case that it’s all up for grabs, and it could be option one, or it could be option four, and there’s really not much certainty on that? Or, is it more the case that the industry as a whole or the scientific community as a whole is essentially converging to one of these options as being preferable in the long term?

Marie Gibbons: Again, I’m not really sure, unfortunately, in terms of the industry as a whole what they’re focusing on. In terms of academia, so far most of the cells that we’ve been working with have been muscle cells. I think some of the potential concerns with the embryonic stem cells, or the induced pluripotent stem cells rather, is that currently the most efficient way to induce pluripotency involves genetic modification. Now, that’s not to say that it can’t be done without genetic modification. It’s just that, again, the efficiency, the numbers of being able to induce pluripotency and maintain that pluripotency does involve specific genomic implantations within the cell. That might be something that people are thinking about staying away from or not exploring with as much because I’m not sure of how much genetic modification is actually being utilized at the moment from other companies or from other academic research areas. If there isn’t a lot of genetic modification going on, then the induced pluripotency I could see as kind of something difficult to explore, again, if you were planning on going about it with the high-efficiency methods.

Natalie Cargill: If we could talk about cell culture media for a moment, what I referred to as the goo, unfortunately, what are the main problems with cell culture media at the moment?

Marie Gibbons: I would say that the limiting factor of the cell culture media, which in turn, is also one of the limiting factors of large-scale production, is the growth factors. As I mentioned before, you can get these from serum, which obviously we will not be using when we’re selling these products. Hopefully, we won’t be using for too much longer at all, but you can also get them from recombination. It’s a term called recombinant protein production, and what happens is you take a gene that is associated with protein production within a specific animal cell. You take that gene, and you put it into a yeast cell or a bacterial cell. Then, those cells, which … They can go through 20 cell doublings overnight. They grow very fast. It would be wonderful if we could have our animal cells grow that fast, but I haven’t figured that out yet. So, if anybody knows, please let me know.

Basically, you take this gene, and you genetically insert it into the bacteria’s genome. Then, that bacteria or yeast will produce that protein from that gene. So, it starts making this protein, and a lot of times, it makes too much of it. One, the bacteria and the yeast don’t need this protein. Two, as they continue to produce this protein, it builds up inside of their cell, inside of that individual cell, until eventually those cells lyse and the protein is then harvested in a somewhat costly and time-consuming process.

That is how, I believe, a lot of companies and potentially academic researchers are getting their growth factors from rather than serum, which … I’m much more of a fan of that than using serum, obviously, but it’s still … I feel like we can still be better. We can get better, and I think there are two different ways of doing this. The first one is through plant proteins, and this can be done through identifying the specific areas of that growth factor that are needed in order to elicit a response. When I talk about eliciting a response, really what I’m referring to is the role of a growth factor in general.

When I’m talking about a growth factor, I’m talking about a specific protein. What happens is this protein that is within the body … This protein is made by one type of cell, and it is then sent through the bloodstream, or maybe it’s right next to the same cell. For example, muscle fibers, myotubes, will produce a protein called HGF, which is called hepatocyte growth factor. This protein is produced by the mature muscle fibers, and it actually stimulates satellite cell migration and proliferation. That’s a form of a growth factor, but they can also travel through the bloodstream in something that you would term a hormone, which is the definition of a protein made by a cell that then travels to another cell and elicits a response.

These growth factors, which are proteins, which are basically folded sequences of amino acids … What they do is they will find their targeted cell, which has another protein on the surface, which is called a cell surface receptor. These two proteins will meet, and they will bind, kind of like two puzzle pieces fitting together. When that cell surface receptor binds to that growth factor, it elicits a cascade, a cell-signaling response within the cell that will in turn tell the cell to grow, to divide, to stop growing and dividing, to turn into a specific cell type. That’s really the role of a growth factor is to signal the cell, to tell the cell what to do.

As we explore more about the specific types of growth factors that we need, then we can start exploring the particular area of that growth factor that is necessary and the particular architecture of that growth factor of that individual protein, which to remind you, is just a physical sequence of amino acids, just a combination of elements that you see on the periodic table. Once we can identify the specific areas of the growth factor that are necessary for eliciting that response, that’s something where we can either hopefully find those specific sequences within plants and harvest them that way rather than having the entire protein produced within a bacteria cell or a yeast cell.

The other option would be small peptide synthesis, which is a matter of single amino acids being linked together one by one or in pairs and then kind of a long chain brought together. There’s a lot of research going into that now, protein engineering, miniproteins, de novo synthesis. That’s a process where we would actually be able to just create part of that protein, part of that growth factor that’s necessary. For that, again, it would just be done through chemical synthesis rather than large-scale recombinant protein production.

Then, there is one more possibility, which is something that I’m personally exploring. For right now, it’s in the form of I’m more using this as a tool to determine what pathways need to be targeted, but later on, especially in terms of trying to determine ways of making this product not only cost competitive but actually quite a bit cheaper than traditional meat, is the idea of genetic edits within the cell that allow the cell to not even need a growth factor in order to proliferate. I think that’s something that’s definitely worth exploring. It’s something I’m working on now as a tool, but in the future could be very useful for large-scale production that might actually be safer than the meat that you’re eating now because it won’t involve any sort of hormone, any sort of growth factor that might possibly be related to unhealthy side effects that we’re seeing in meat consumption.

But again, I can’t really say that with too much confidence because I haven’t done any long-term studies on the safety of it yet, but it is certainly a possibility that being able to grow cells without growth factors at all would remove any potential risk of negative health effects that are associated with these growth factors that … While a lot of people associate growth factors and hormones with something that is injected into these animals in the factory farms to make them bigger and … But the truth of the matter is is that hormones and growth factors, unless you’re working with genetically edited clean meat production, these factors are necessary. These hormones are necessary for life. Even if you are biting into a burger that’s been grass fed and locally raised and completely organic, you are still eating hormones because these are hormones that are produced inside the body, and they are necessary for the body to function for now.

Natalie Cargill: If I could attempt my layman’s summary again, so we need growth factor as well. We probably need growth factors at the moment, and the two options that look most promising are finding them in plants, just the parts that we need in plants existing already, or sort of building up the necessary proteins bit by bit from scratch. Or, there’s a third option, which I am finding the most appealing at the moment, which is eliminate the need for these growth factors altogether.

Marie Gibbons: You got it.

Natalie Cargill: Sounds very exciting. If we could move on to bioreactors and scaffolding, so bioreactors being the kind of warm ovens that the cells go and sit in their goo in, and scaffolding being all the sort of branches that the meat grows around in order for it to have the texture of what we recognize as meat. If we could talk first about the bioreactors, so what’s a kind of situation with them?

Marie Gibbons: Yes. With the bioreactors, I would say that as of right now, there are three different focus areas. The one that I’m focusing on is, again, the one that I’m biased towards. I’m focusing on suspension growth, so think of how we grow beer right now. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% the same. It certainly isn’t, but it’s the idea of taking your cells and having them grow in suspension, in a large, metal, giant keg, if you will, with a rotating turbine at the bottom. You have equipment that monitors the pH, equipment that makes sure that the correct amount of oxygen is being diffused into the media, making sure that the turbine isn’t going too fast or too slow. That is what I see as the most scalable method.

One of the main issues though is that when you look at a muscle cell, they’re not floating around inside your body. They are attached down to your tendons. They’re attached down to other muscles. So, getting my muscle cells to grow without adhering to things has been a challenge, but I think it’s something that is definitely doable. It’s just a matter of having a better understanding of what’s necessary for cell growth, what the constraints are in terms of the individual cell’s architecture, be it the cytoskeleton arrangements. Another promising aspect of this is the fact that there are several cell types that are able to grow in suspension that were originally adherent cell types, such as the Chinese hamster ovary. There are several different types of kidney cells. These are good models to look at.

These cells are currently being produced at very large scales for the purpose of biopharmaceutical production, so they’re using these cells similar to how we’re using yeast and bacteria cells to grow growth factors. Biopharmaceutical companies are using these animal cells to produce recombinant proteins. The benefit that we have over them is that we are not interested in a very small, specific recombinantly produced protein. We are just interested in the cell. If you were to compare the production methods of these cells at a large scale to what our cell production methods would look like, some of them would be similar, but we would have a much higher yield because, again, we would be harvesting the entire cell rather than the small protein that these specific cells will make.

At the same time, because we’re not focused on just a protein, we don’t have to worry about the separation process, the downstream processing that’s involved in separating these cells from the proteins that they make. We already have a really good blueprint, and it should actually be easier, should being the key word there. Of course, I do not have a 20,000-liter bioreactor in my bedroom currently producing muscle cells, disclaimer.

That’s what I’m working on, but there are two other types of bioreactors that I can think of that I know of. I’m sure that there are more out there, but one of them is more focused on adherent growth. I would imagine that would involve something where you have a matrix potentially made out of components that are seen in extracellular matrix, so things like collagen. You would stimulate these cells to adhere to this matrix. Again, this matrix could also be made out of something like metal, where the cells have kind of a sheet that they can layer on top of. Then, when they are finished proliferating, they will have to be removed from the sheet using some sort of digestive enzyme and then further processed in terms of being added to scaffolds and whatnot.

I think that that is a very intuitive method, and I certainly think that it’s still worth exploring. I think that all of these possibilities and more are definitely worth exploring, but one of my concerns with adherent bioreactor growth is that, as I mentioned before, the cells are triggered to differentiate into myotubes when they come in contact with other cells. When cells adhere to things, not necessarily other cells, but perhaps extracellular matrix, this also triggers a response that may not necessarily tell them to fuse, but it will tell them to start turning into a more differentiated form of muscle cell. That signal will actually downregulate the signals that are necessary to allow this cell to continue to proliferate indefinitely.

I’m referring to telomerase expression. Telomerase is a protein that is used within the cell to maintain the integrity of the DNA every single time a cell divides, but research shows that differentiation will actually downregulate telomerase expression. The expression of MyoD is also something that downregulates telomerase. So, having cells grow in a form where they are adherent to something could at the same time trigger these cells to not proliferate as indefinitely as we would like them to. Again, that’s something still very much worth exploring. I think if that is an issue, it can be addressed through genetic edits, but I still think it is warranted to keep that in mind.

Then finally, this is the bioreactor that I have no idea how it works. It sounds like, if people can pull it off, that it would be absolutely fantastic, but the idea of being able to grow entire, whole slabs of meat within a bioreactor, within a box. I think that would be absolutely amazing, and I think it’s doable, too. I just don’t know how to do it. The idea of being able to take a small amount of cells, and putting them into a box, and pressing some buttons, and waiting a few weeks, and having a slab of muscle pop out would be really, really exciting.

Now, I don’t know how long the cells would be able to continue proliferating, or if it’s a matter of this being more of a downstream piece of equipment after you have a large amount of proliferative cells. Because I would imagine that, once you’ve made that T-bone steak or that chicken breast, that you wouldn’t be able to take cells from that product and continue to grow them, but the idea of being able to have kind of a do-it-yourself Easy-Bake meat machine is really, really exciting. Again, while I don’t know how people are doing it, I believe people are in fact working on it.

Natalie Cargill: At the moment, how many times do you expect a cell to proliferate? How many times do you expect it to continue doubling until it, yeah, no longer copies itself properly?

Marie Gibbons: Right. Without telomerase, cells have something called a Hayflick limit, and that usually … Around 40 to 60 cell doublings. Once the cell has divided 40 to 60 times, it runs out of telomeres. Telomeres are genomic sequences at the end of our chromosomes, and they serve as a buffer. Whenever a cell replicates, our DNA replication machinery is unfortunately a little bit imperfect. But then again, I guess if it was perfect, then we would be basically immortal, so maybe it’s a good thing that it’s not.

Whenever our cells divide, and our DNA replicates, a very small part at the end of the chromosome is unable to be replicated by the DNA-replication machinery. Telomeres are there as a form of buffer so that those parts of the chromosome, while they aren’t replicated, they don’t really serve any purpose other than as a buffer. They are not going to be transcribed into some sort of necessary protein as far as we know.

Now, without telomerase, these telomeres are eventually going to get shorter and shorter and shorter because little bits of them at the very end are not going to be replicated by the DNA replication machinery, also known as DNA polymerase. When you have telomerase, telomerase is able to add more sequences to the end of your telomeres and elongate the telomeres. Telomerase is found in stem cells, and it’s also found in satellite cells. But once cells differentiate, once cells have decided that they are … they’ve decided what they’re going to be, their telomerase decreases. Eventually, their telomeres will run out. So, we’re thinking 50 around … Sorry, not 50. Around 40 to 60 cell doublings is when you’re going to lose your telomerase expression.

To be fair, if the cell growth was a limiting factor, we would still be able to get quite a bit of meat out of cells that are able to double 60 times. But I think because we are doing so much research, and we want to be able to not have the need for any sort of biopsy in the future, I think it is important to be able to have cells that are able to proliferate a little bit longer than that. When you’re working with cells that do have telomerase, then you’re looking at … They could potentially continue to double indefinitely. Me personally, my cells are able to double around 150 times before they start to senesce, but generally the immortalization cutoff, the definition of an immortalized cell line, is 100 cell doublings.

Natalie Cargill: So our listeners have an idea about the production as it stands, if we use the techniques that you’ve already got at the moment, how long would it take to produce one kilogram of meat?

Marie Gibbons: If we are looking at the ability to produce one kilogram of meat from a single cell … This is based off the math that I’ve found from my cell weights. I’ve determined that around 875 million cells comes out to around 17 and a half grams, which is around the weight of a chicken nugget. So, if I wanted to be able to grow one kilogram of meat from a single cell, that would lead me to needing around 50 trillion cells, which … If I started with a single cell, and the cell doubled every day, we’re looking at around a month before I could actually get a kilogram of meat.

But here’s the thing. Because cells double every day, I could take that kilogram and have that kilogram of meat, and eat it, and then start out with a single cell and wait a whole month for another kilogram. Or, I could wait, and instead of eating that kilogram today, just wait and eat it tomorrow instead. Because the next day, on day 33, I’m going to have enough meat for two kilograms. If I continue on with that with those cells, then the day after that, I would have four kilograms.

The day after that, I would have eight, and so on and so on until, assuming that cell growth is the limiting factor, we’re looking at trillions and trillions of tons of muscle over just a three-month period. That’s the beauty of exponential cell growth is that you start with one, and then the next day, you get two. The next day after that is four, and so on and so on. Again, this is very optimistic and theoretical. Obviously, it’s never going to be 100% efficient, but we have a lot of power in that exponential growth that if we use it appropriately, we can produce just unlimited amounts of meat.

Natalie Cargill: I do look forward to that. I’d like to ask a few more general questions now. Do you think that a lot of this fundamental research that you’ve discussed just a few minutes ago … Is that best done in an academic setting or in a commercial setting? Or, is there a balance to be struck between the two?

Marie Gibbons: I think there’s definitely a healthy balance. I haven’t worked in an industrial setting yet, so I can’t really say how beneficial it is to the field other than what I’ve heard from others, which is that it’s very fast paced. Obviously, we’re going to need an industrial setting in order to get these products on the market. In terms of my experience with academia, I have learned quite a fair bit. The pace could be a little faster, and there are issues with IP, publications, things like that, where I was hoping that being in an academic setting, I could be a lot more open about what I was researching what I have learned. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

I’m not sure how different the openness of academia is versus working for a company other than the fact that clearly, once I am able to publish something, it will then be public knowledge. But there’s always the risk that something that I’m working really hard on is something that several other companies have already figured out. So, I guess it’s a matter of what your interests are. I think in terms of figuring things out that are completely novel, have nothing to do with anything that you individually, personally have done before, nothing to do with what others have researched before, then the basic science is necessary in academia, where you have access to these great minds and these very expensive pieces of equipment and the freedom to explore different alternatives without that time crunch.

At the same time, when you’re working with something that has been proven to work, and it’s a matter of optimizing, and I think that clean meat is falling into this category every single day as more and more research is taking place, I think that it may be better to happen in the industry. Not only because of the fast pace, but at the same time, I think that people that could be very valuable to this field are going to be expected to be compensated very well as well. While academia is certainly cushy in some respects, you’re definitely going to get a bigger paycheck when you’re working in industry. So, that’s something that should be taken into consideration, too.

Additionally, in terms of funding, there are a lot of people that are interested in funding open academic research. At the same time, there are many, many more people that are hoping to fund this research, not just because they feel like it will be very beneficial to the world, but they see the enormous potential for profit. So, we’re opening up a lot more funding possibilities when we’re walking up to people, saying, “Hey, fund this project, and we’ll make you very, very rich.”

Natalie Cargill: Do you think there is a large funding gap? I mean, if the amount of funding available to clean meat research is doubled tomorrow, do you think that would have a really dramatic effect on the kind of results that you are coming to?

Marie Gibbons: Oh, absolutely. If anything, it would be able to fund more students, more graduate students, to be able to learn how to do these sorts of things. I mean, if I was to walk into a company two years ago, I would be nowhere near as useful as I am today. As I’ve been able to use the money that was given to me through this grant proposal, I’ve been able to learn what I know now. The more people that are able to do that, that are able to focus solely on cellular agriculture, that’s going to be extremely important down the line.

Natalie Cargill: It seems that there are so many stages in the process and that each one has its own challenges. Given that, do you think it makes sense for all areas of research to be done within the same full-stack company? Or, do you think there will be benefits to companies or researchers focusing on just one stage in the puzzle and then, later on, either working with or sharing their research with full-stack companies?

Marie Gibbons: I think that the latter option is definitely the best one to explore. The hope is that they will be able to communicate with each other and understand that these companies are not in competition with each other but are rather there to help each other, and even if it does involve licensing fees. I think right now because it is so new, a lot of companies are keeping a lot of what they’re doing very close to the chest, which is understandable, but I hope as more and more companies pop up, specifically ones that you mentioned that are solely focused on very specific parts of the process, then they will be able to form relationships with the earlier companies that were set on making meat as their goal. So, yes, I think that being able to focus on different parts of it or different species, I think, would be very important.

Natalie Cargill: I know we’ve spoken a little bit about this before, but what is your opinion on using GM to speed up or sort of hack different parts of the process? I know this is quite a hot topic in the U.S., so I’d welcome your thoughts.

Marie Gibbons: Yeah. I do want to start off by saying that I firmly believe that clean meat can be produced at a competitive cost without the use of genetic modification. If that’s something that you’re concerned with, if you were hesitant to get involved in the field or hesitant to try it once it comes out, I firmly believe that we can do it without any sort of genetic modification or genetic editing.

That being said, I think that if we wanted to bring the cost even lower, if we wanted to be able to feed people that currently don’t have access to appropriate nutrients, I think we would be able to do that quite a bit easier if we were to design cells in a way that I had mentioned earlier, design cells to be able to grow without growth factors or, design cells to be able to grow at a low temperature, at a lower temperature. Right now, I know fish are able to grow at room temperature, I believe, but for my cells, they have to grow at 37 degrees, which … I think that could be addressed through solar energy and things like that, but it would be nice if we could have cells that were able to just grow in the backyard.

Additionally, if we could design them so that they don’t need to be agitated, then it’s really something where you could just have a big tub in, like I said, in the backyard or in the kitchen, with the cells being able to proliferate in there and be happy in that respect. For that, I think it would either be a matter of genetic modification or genetic editing, which are different things, by the way. In fact, I think … I don’t even know if people are planning on doing genetic modification, the idea of taking a specific gene from another species and putting it into a species that you’re working with. I don’t plan on taking a gene from a fish and putting it into a turkey, which is what a genetic modification is.

A genetic edit is more something that you would see in nature, changing a base pair, silencing a gene, things like that. It’s just that we’re doing it a little bit more directly. That would be an option. The other thing would be I think that it’s something that could also be addressed with media additives. It’s just that the more media additives we have, be them from plant-based sources or from small peptides, that is going to have additional costs. In terms of if we’re wanting to bring this cost down to the absolute minimum, that’s where I would see genetic modifications, or rather genetic edits, as a really promising field of study.

I’m also currently using it as a tool right now to kind of target the different pathways that are associated with the behaviors that I want. That’s something that I think is also hopefully something that people will be comfortable with. If they aren’t comfortable consuming cells that have been edited. At least I would hope that they would be comfortable consuming cells that we’re able to grow because we know more about them from research using genetic edits, be it through determining the proper media additives that we need to stimulate the proper cell pathways. I’m a fan, but for those of you who aren’t, that’s okay, too. Clean meat is still 100% an option.

Natalie Cargill: I do find it curious how a lot of people might have objections to eating GM food because it’s unnatural, because it’s perceived to be dangerous, and yet eating conventional meat, which at the moment is produced in truly unhygienic, inhumane conditions and can in no way be called natural. Yeah, it’s an interesting cognitive dissonance, I think.

Marie Gibbons: Yes, absolutely. To add onto that, I think another thing to think about is someone who does currently consume meat … If you were to take, say, a heritage breed turkey, a turkey that was what we originally had versus the turkeys that we’re eating today, I don’t even know if those animals would be able to mate with each other. In fact, this is kind of off subject, but several turkeys that we eat today are unable to mate because their breasts are just too large to be able to actually go through that process. So, you might be able to argue that they are a different species.

The process of that, of taking a small, trim animal and turning it into this large, gigantic, muscular being that literally cannot live for more than 40 weeks before it becomes an animal welfare issue due to the weight of its own body and the fact that its legs are not able to support it anymore, that does not happen in nature. When it does, those animals do not survive, and so they do not pass on their genes to their offspring, and so nature cuts out that mutation. It cuts out that adaption. But humans, through the process of selection, which I would argue is a form of gene editing, it’s just a very much less direct form of it, have taken these animals that were naturally produced through evolution and selected for genes through forced mating and selective mating that they wanted to see more of, and these genes that, again, to reiterate, would not naturally be found in the wild because how are you going to have offspring if you cannot have intercourse?

They are able to continue to pass these genes on through forced mating, through collecting of semen and impregnating, but the fact that we have selected for these specific characteristics is not very different from us going in on a cellular level and saying, “Oh, well, we like this gene because it allows the cells to proliferate more.” The only difference is that we’re going about it a little bit more directly, and it doesn’t involve any sort of forced breeding. Yeah, if you are concerned with genetic modification, genetic edits, then it may not be a good idea. It might be in your best interest to just not be eating meat in general.

Natalie Cargill: Well, you’re currently a research fellow at GFI. Could you perhaps tell us a little more about what that involves and how GFI supports researchers like yourselves, or entrepreneurs, or people interested in working in the field in general?

Marie Gibbons: Absolutely. GFI, or The Good Food Institute, is based in the United States, and it’s an organization that’s focused on accelerating plant meat, plant-based alternatives for meat, as well as clean-meat production. They do that in a lot of different ways, be it through policy and learning more about the laws and how the government can get involved, looking into different types of grants that we might be able to take advantage of. They also are involved in starting companies, so they’re involved in connecting people who are interested in starting companies. They’re a great resource for anybody who’s interested in getting involved in something like that.

Then also, more recently, they’re getting involved in the research side of things. They are funding my research here at Harvard Medical School, and that was through a grant proposal that I submitted to them. I needed some extra funding in order to finish up my degree and in order to have the opportunity to come and study up here. That’s something that they’re also getting involved in, and they’re hoping to get even more involved in that.

If you’re interested in the academic side of things in addition to the entrepreneur side of things, they’re definitely a great resource to have, even if it’s just something where you want to learn a little bit more about the field. Then, in addition to that, they can connect you with other people that are also interested and might have some strengths where you’re lacking and vice versa. Yeah, hopefully in the future, there will be even more research funding coming from the Institute, so would definitely, definitely recommend getting in touch with them and keeping an eye out.

Natalie Cargill: That does sound promising. Do you know if they accept applications on a rolling basis? So, can people who are interested contact them immediately, or is there sort of a series of deadlines that people should work towards? Also, do you know if you need to have fairly concrete proposals? Or, are they open to people who have some relevant training and experience or perhaps no relevant training and experience? Could you contact them, again, on a more speculative basis just to see what might be available?

Marie Gibbons: At the moment, I believe the applications for potential research proposals are rolling. However, I would recommend getting in contact with them before spending several hours, to days, to weeks possibly writing a grant proposal. Just getting in touch with them, having a phone call with them, and talking about what your strengths are, what your interests are, and where they think you would have the most impact, and as well as learning more about where some of the necessities lie within the research, within the basic research.

Because they’ve got a really good handle on that respect. I would recommend contacting them before getting a hardcore proposal out, but they’re definitely right there along the way to help you choose what type of research you want to do. Hopefully, they’d be able to help you connect with different academic advisors and different institutes. Then, from there, they’re very helpful with actually writing the proposal. I mean, they’re not going to write it for you. Obviously, you need to do that, but in terms of kind of guiding you along the way, very helpful with that as well.

Natalie Cargill: In terms of the university funding, is it that they will fund you to take part in an existing program or an existing research project? Or, is it more that they work with the university to create research projects or programs that weren’t happening otherwise and fund them through the university?

Marie Gibbons: So far, it’s been the second option, is kind of creating a research project around something that hasn’t really happened yet. I think as more research picks up in the clean meat space, they’d obviously, I would imagine, be open to continuing to fund things that are already established. But right now, there’s only a dozen or so schools I would say that are focusing specifically on clean meat research.

Natalie Cargill: Which of those schools seem the most promising to you? Are there any centers that stand out as being first choices for applications?

Marie Gibbons: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Again, me being biased, but I would definitely say Harvard. There’s a lot of options here in terms of professors that are both interested. We have Dr. Church, who’s obviously interested. We also have Kit Parker, who I believe might be working on some clean meat research as well. Then, just around and in the Boston area, we have Caleb Harper from MIT. We have Dr. David Kaplan at Tufts.

Then, down in North Carolina where I’m from, I’m pretty familiar with that area as well, NC State, Dr. Piedrahita with the veterinary school. He’s also a mentor of mine and is interested in the research. There’s a lot of really cool regenerative medicine research, specifically in muscle, coming out of Duke University, Wake Forest University. I would say Tom Rando at Stanford would be a fabulous person to have on board. I haven’t been able to get ahold of him yet, but maybe if enough people start flooding his inbox, he’ll get involved.

There’s several people in Canada. Dr. Pelling over in Ottawa, as well as Michael Rudnicki. Now, he hasn’t … He’s not necessarily involved yet, but he has a lot of amazing muscle stem cell biology experience and, again, would be a fantastic person to have on board. Also, in Alberta, there’s a program called CPCP, or [CP]2. They’re mainly plant based, but they’re also interested in getting involved in the clean meat space. I think that would have a lot of benefit in terms of plant-based media, plant-based scaffolding. They also have a lot of connections with the industry and chefs, people that understand mouthfeel and taste and texture and all that really important research that we need in addition to the basic science behind actually creating the product. We need to be able to make it taste good, too. Right?

In Italy, we have Stefano Biressi, who’s potentially interested in getting involved, another great muscle stem cell biologist. England, obviously, we have Marianne Ellis over in Bath. She has several students working with her. She’s working on bioreactor design. In the Netherlands, we have Dr. Mark Post, which you probably have heard of, the creator of the first lab-grown hamburger. Oh, even over in Australia, we have some potential interests. Melbourne is a great hub for biotechnology, and James Ryall might also be a good connection in terms of hoping to get involved. He might be open to having some students or having some potential researchers.

Oh, and then, of course in Israel, I know that Dr. Levenberg at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. She, again, would be a fantastic PI. Fingers crossed, she might be actually looking for some more students to take on, given how progressive the field has been in that area. Some more references I would say would probably to head to the Cultured Beef Conference website, the International Cultured Beef Conference. It’s held every fall in the Netherlands. If you take a look at the roster, take a look at the speaker lineup just from any of the past three years, I would say that any of those people are fantastic connections.

If they are researchers, I would recommend getting in contact with them and seeing if they have any potential openings for students or potential interest in collaboration. Because a lot of times, they’re looking for students to come on board, but they need these students to be able to bring funding with them. Because right now, we’re not getting a lot of funding from the government as far as I know, very small amounts, if any. So, being able to come on board with your own funding, be it through a company or a nonprofit organization …

Or, I mean, if you’re able to get funding from the government, I mean, that would be absolutely fantastic. If you’ve got some good skills and grant writing, then I would definitely recommend looking into that. I think it’s definitely going to be a possibility and a probability, I would say, later down the line. It’s just that now that we’re kind of at the initial stages of this, things are always a little more difficult to get started in terms of funding.

Natalie Cargill: Do you have any tips for our listeners who might be considering the flood-the-inbox strategy of reaching out to these researchers and academics?

Marie Gibbons: Yeah, absolutely. I would suggest when you contact them, be sure to keep the initial email no more than a paragraph. Include a CV or a résumé. Include your transcripts if you’re hoping to come on as a graduate student, and just briefly talk about … Within a sentence, talk about your interests. A sentence, talk about your potential skill set, and then you can kind of refer to your CV for that. Remember, these people are very busy, and so you need to send something to them that kind of sparks their interest and lets them know who you are and how you could benefit their research and the field in general. I would definitely keep it short, to the point, and hopefully it’ll lead to something from there.

Natalie Cargill: Perhaps we could talk a little bit about the current state of the field with regards to scaffolding.

Marie Gibbons: Yeah, absolutely. To be honest, scaffolding is definitely not my strong suit. I’m more focused on making the cells that would be then used with the scaffolding. I would envision the first products to be definitely processed. That’s what we’ve been making so far, our nuggets and our burgers and our meatballs. When it comes to processed meats, luckily the scaffolding doesn’t need to be that intricate. You know, we’re not talking T-bone steaks and baby back ribs just yet. Give us a few years. In terms of the initial scaffolds and the initial products, the plant-based meat field has come so far in terms of the texture and the appearance of these products, and in my opinion, the flavor, but in other people’s opinions, the flavor could be more meat-like.

I think that’s really where initial clean meat comes into play. Because when you taste clean meat, you will definitely be able to taste the actual animal flavor because it is animal. Not an animal, but it is coming from an animal. I think a combination of clean meat with plant-based scaffolding would be probably the most likely initial products. I think that plants have a lot to offer in terms of the texture and the appearance. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to make steaks out of plants. I’m not saying that it’s not possible. I just don’t know how to do it, so I can’t say that … I can’t sit here and walk you through how that would be done. I think in the long run, there will definitely be people who want 100% animal-based products. If that’s the case, then scaffolding will need to be made out of animal products from a cellular level or a protein level, which …

If we’re going about it from a protein level, I think that arguably, you could get those proteins from plants and have those amino acids from plants and then rearrange them in a way to make a protein that is the exact replica of a protein that’s derived from an animal. But again, I think that’s a little bit farther down the line, especially in terms of 3-D, very structured, very specific-formed meat products. In terms of the initial stages or scaffolding, I would say plant-based is definitely the way to go, and I also think we have …

Again, the regenerative medicine and the biotechnology fields are very helpful for this because we have a lot of people studying how to grow organs. We can kind of use their techniques to our advantage because, while they have to make things work and function inside the body and not be rejected by the patient and make sure that they’re able to function as organs, we really just have to make sure that it tastes good and looks good and feels good and is safe to eat. We don’t have as much to worry about. We don’t have as much work to do when compared to the regenerative medicine specialists who are trying to grow muscle for transplantation. So, we’ve got some really good references.

In terms of the specific materials, I’ve personally worked with jackfruit, artichoke, and coconut, all of which are able to kind of form, just on a raw-material level, kind of form a meat-like product and the muscle cells seem to like to adhere to. I would argue that the muscle cells don’t necessarily need to adhere to the scaffolds, that the scaffolds can also just be used as a form of giving structure to the product.

Because muscle cells are able to go from a satellite cell into a myotube, into a muscle fiber, just by interacting with themselves in the form of just big aggregates of muscle cells, called myospheres. I don’t know if having muscle cells attached down to plant-based substrates is absolutely necessary, but of course definitely something worth looking into. In the future when we’re making things that are T-bone steaks, I would imagine that having the muscle cells aligned correctly and in a similar fashion to how they are within the body will play a role in the appearance and the texture of the product.

Natalie Cargill: It seems to me that having plant-free and only animal-based scaffolding might be one of the harder scientific challenges at the moment to be cracked. Is that right?

Marie Gibbons: Again, I’m probably not the best person to be asking this, but I would imagine that the bottleneck there would be the source of the product. There’s already a lot of research going into how you can kind of form different proteins into specific scaffolds that are similar to meat, which is kind of the architecture being similar in terms of tube formation and things like that. My idea would be that it would be difficult to find products, proteins that are able to do that that aren’t animal based. At the same time, I think if they are animal based, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just that they can’t be sourced continuously from animals.

If we’re able to take a muscle biopsy and grow up a whole bunch of muscle cells, then we should be able to do the same thing with either the cells that are associated with creating the scaffolding, so chondrocytes, or fibroblasts, or endothelial cells I would argue as well. Those things could also be harvested from the animal, and at the same time, the proteins that are responsible for different types of scaffolding, such as collagen … Those proteins are actually secreted by the cells. That’s where we’re getting them. That’s how the animal gets these proteins is from the cells that they’re made up of. If we’re able to make scaffolding without the use of the cells that contribute to scaffolding, rather than having those cells inside the scaffold, just having the actual proteins that are responsible for the makeup of the scaffold …

I think that’s something where, again, there are several companies that are looking into the recombinant production, recombinant protein production of these components. At the same time, I think it’s something that could be produced by the cells within the product, just kind of literally having the meat make itself, meat-made meat. Then, in addition to that, just having small peptide synthesis, just chemical-based small peptide synthesis would also be an option as an alternative to plant-based proteins.

Natalie Cargill: I’d like to address a concern about clean meat that I think a number of people in the EA community and perhaps the animals rights community as well have expressed, and that concern is that simply clean meat will always be too expensive to produce and will never, or at least never in any reasonable timeframe, be cost competitive with conventional meat, and therefore it will never really compete with conventional meat and work to eliminate factory farming. I’m not sure exactly the details of this argument, but I think it’s something along the lines of even just the sheer materials that would be needed for the equipment to produce clean meat would just already be too expensive in a very, very basic, back-of-the-envelope cost calculation. I’d be curious to hear your views on this.

Marie Gibbons: Yes. Again, I can’t necessarily speculate on this because we haven’t done it yet, so everything that I’m about to say is kind of theoretical, just taking into account what I know, but this is by no means something that I could prove. I 100% believe that clean meat will be cost competitive, and I would argue it has the potential to be even cheaper than meat today. Not just in terms of the environmental impact and the effects that it has for the ethical issues in our society, but just on the basis of cost. This has the potential to be a much more efficient method for meat production.

When you think about the amount of subsidies that go into animal agriculture right now just in the U.S., I think that’s something that isn’t necessarily taken into account when we’re comparing the cost of what we think traditional meat is versus the cost of what we’re hoping this type of meat will be. Another thing is that the bottlenecks that really drive up the cost of clean meat today are the lack of scale-up, so just looking into more research behind the scale-up of it. Because as you scale up, then the price per pound is going to go down. So, the scale-up process. Then, again, the media component is definitely a very big issue, but as I’ve mentioned, we’re working on that. I think once those costs can be addressed, then we’re looking at something that’s not just cost competitive but is actually a lower cost.

Natalie Cargill: When you say low cost, do you mean … See, when I’m thinking of cost, I think someone will go into a supermarket, and maybe there’ll be conventional meat, and there’ll be clean meat, and there’ll be plant-based meat alternatives. Most consumers are going to be concerned with the price tag on that product and aren’t going to price on things like subsidies, or the effect on the environment, or many other things they may well should price in but aren’t going to do that the moment of making a purchasing decision. Based on where the science stands now, in very broad timelines, when do you think a consumer can walk into a supermarket and pick up a packet of clean ground meat for the same as or less than conventional ground meat?

Marie Gibbons: Well, I would say that definitely depends on the consumers’ initial response to the first products. I don’t think that the first products are going to be able to hop on the market at the exact same cost as traditional meat. Not because they cost more to make if we were making them at the same scale, but just because we aren’t making them at the same scale just yet. I think once the initial products come onto the market, we will be able to have a much better idea of when those costs will be able to be driven down. I think we’d probably be looking at something that might be twice as much. I’m really not sure. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what a traditional burger costs right now because I’m not very familiar with buying traditional burgers, but I think if consumers are willing to pay a little extra at least initially for these products, then the price will inevitably go down. I guess it is …

It’s hard to give a timeline with that because there’s been a lot of varying consumer studies, so I can’t really give a very good estimate on the cost. Optimistically, I would probably say … I would probably say five to 10 years, but again, that really depends on a lot of factors. It depends on if sales are able to take off and if we are able to actually get these products up to scale. Not only is it based off of the consumer acceptance, but it would be based off of how many people are starting to contribute to the field and how much research we can have into large-scale production. Because there is large-scale cell production going on right now. It just costs a lot of money to do it because there’s really no incentive to bring the cost down. Once we start focusing on scaling up this large-scale production even more so and focusing on what we can do to cut costs, then I think things will change.

Natalie Cargill: I think this is a good opportunity for the clean meat field and animal advocacy to work with each other. Because if we did have five to 10 years until these products are available, that’s five to 10 years in which animal advocates can work to raise awareness of factory farming conditions, to increase the number of vegans and vegetarians or people that eat vegan and vegetarian foods. Even now within the last year, I’ve seen …

Well, perhaps I’m in a media bubble, but I’ve seen increasing interest in people being concerned with where their food comes from, how it was produced, things maybe not directly related to animal welfare, but things like food safety and hygiene and spreading of disease. If we have five to 10 years ahead of us, perhaps within that timeframe, people will have a much higher willingness to pay for clean meat. Or, perhaps governments will have less of an incentive to subsidize meat to the levels that they currently are doing. There’s a lot of factors in play, I think, that will affect the uptake of clean meat when it becomes available.

Marie Gibbons: Absolutely. To clarify, I don’t think that it will take five to 10 years for a clean meat product to be on the market. I think it’ll take five to 10 years for that clean meat product to be the same cost or lower cost. I fully expect to be purchasing and eating a clean meat product by the end of this year.

Natalie Cargill: That’s really exciting. Are you thinking of something specific? A specific project, or …

Marie Gibbons: No, not necessarily. The more I’m learning about the advancements in the field from several of the different companies, I really think that it’s possible. Again, I don’t think it’s going to be cost competitive. I think we’ll probably be paying 15 or so bucks for it, but I think it’s going to happen. I’m optimistic about it, but I really think that it’s going to be a possibility.

Natalie Cargill: I can think of a large number of people who would pay 15 or so bucks for clean meat, myself included, if that’s available within the next year. I suppose there are also lessons we can learn from things like the free-range egg movement, or there seems to specific issues around animal welfare where people are willing to pay a little bit more. I suppose that might indicate that people working on the branding and the strategy of clean meat are just as needed just as urgently as people like yourself working on the scientific side of things.

Marie Gibbons: Absolutely. I think that this small group of people, when you compare it to the overall population … This small group of people that are willing to pay a little bit extra are going to make a huge difference for this movement because as wonderful as it would be to assume and to see everyone deciding to put more money into something that is more environmentally efficient and more ethically produced, it’s something that just isn’t happening for a variety of reasons, be it because people can’t afford to, or people aren’t aware. Unfortunately, in some cases, people just don’t care, but I would hope that that’s not the majority of the reason behind it.

The people that do, that are willing to put a little extra money behind this to pay for something that is more expensive, in the long run, that is going to help drive the cost of clean meat down to the price where people can choose … If their choice is, for what type of meat they want, is based solely on cost, which I think a fair amount of people, that is their determining factor is cost and taste and convenience, then we will be able to get to a point where, if they’re sitting in the supermarket, or standing in the supermarket, and they’re looking at something that was made in a bioreactor versus something that was slaughtered and taken from an animal, they will decide to take that product from a bioreactor because it is cheaper. I really believe that that’s going to happen. But in order for it to happen, we do need that initial support from people that are willing to pay a little bit extra, but it won’t always be that way.

Natalie Cargill: If some of our listeners are considering devoting their career to whatever will most effectively reduce animal suffering, and say they’re considering a number of options such as working to increase the number of vegans, working on animal advocacy, working for a think tank, and another of those options is working in clean meat, what would be your broad assessment of the value of working in clean meat compared to these other options? Are there particular characteristics or preferences in people that you think would make them more suited to working in this field?

Marie Gibbons: That’s a great question, and it’s actually a question I asked myself before getting involved was how I could make the most impact, how I could make the biggest difference and the biggest dent in animal suffering. I concluded that it was getting involved in clean meat research. Now, I do have an interest in biology, but just because … You don’t necessarily have to be a biologist in order to get involved in this field. If you’re interested in … If you’re really passionate about ending animal agriculture, ending our exploitation of animals because they taste good, I can’t imagine a more impactful area to get involved in.

Because only a small subset of our population is vegan and vegetarian, and the rest of the population isn’t. I find it hard to believe that they aren’t because they aren’t being exposed to the truths that are going on in the industry. I think it’s something where they don’t have time. They think maybe it costs too much money, which … To be fair, I’m pretty sure a burger at McDonald’s is cheaper than a salad, so that’s not very helpful.

I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why people aren’t vegans or vegetarians, and I personally haven’t been able to figure out how … I’m not very good at converting people to veganism. So, if I’m not good at it just through education or other means, then I went to what I realized would probably be more effective, which is just taking the decision out of the equation altogether and giving people meat, giving people what they want, but without the ethical and the environmental and the health hazards.

If you feel that you are really good at making arguments and changing people’s behaviors, then I would definitely recommend going into those movements that are spreading. Spread education or spread educational videos and statistics. I mean, that’s how I became vegan to begin with was watching videos and learning more about it. Those areas are definitely very important. In terms of reaching the audience that just is kind of closed off to those truths, which unfortunately is a large amount of people in this world, I would say clean meat is definitely the best way to go.

Natalie Cargill: If we could turn to what our listeners can concretely do in terms of their careers … For people wanting to enter this field, what do you think they should study early on? Do you think there are lots of things that might be relevant, chemistry, biology, life sciences? Or, is there one degree course that stands out to you as being really very important and should be chosen over other options?

Marie Gibbons: I think really the thing that’s probably most important is figuring out what people that are interested in the field, what you are interested in most, because this is such a new field. It is growing, and there are so many aspects of it that can use so many different disciplines that really the best thing for you to do is to find something that you’re interested in and you’re good at and you’re passionate about and then apply that to the field. I would obviously suggest at least some sort of introductory cellular biology course, basic understanding of what’s going on inside the cell, how a cell functions.

If you are interested in being more on the biology side of things, then that’s when you need to really get into the physics, the organic chemistry, the biochemistry, the genetics. Really, that’s kind of a generic biology degree course or list of courses. Just really getting the ins and outs of how life works, the science of life, biology. That being said, if you wanted to be more specific once you get into those courses, and there are specific areas that really stick out to you that you really enjoy, I would say that protein engineering is a huge factor, especially if we want to address the media additives in the form of small miniproteins. That’s something that I’m really excited about. If anybody is interested in protein engineering, I would definitely recommend them exploring that.

Another thing would be bioinformatics, using computers to predict different types of cell-signaling pathways to predict the scalability needed, the different conditions that would allow the cells to proliferate as we scale up. Computer learning, machine learning is going to be extremely useful in the future, and it’s going to take a lot of time out of the process. Even if you’re not necessarily that biologically inclined, if you’re interested in computers, and you’re interested in applying your interest to computers to this field, we could definitely use you. Again, I do think that it would require some preliminary biology coursework, but certainly not something where you’d have to focus a great deal on it if you didn’t want to.

Another thing to focus on within biology would be the tissue engineering aspect. Right now, I am imagining that the first products are probably going to be processed, you know, nuggets, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, bacon. Fingers crossed, we’ll get some bacon soon. Further down the line, we’re going to want to be able to make T-bone steaks, to make whole chicken breasts. Luckily, there is a lot of research going on in tissue engineering right now. We have the benefit because, for the purpose of tissue engineering, the majority of it is to be able to make organs for people that need organs, but we don’t have to …

We don’t have to make something that works. We don’t have to make something that functions. We just have to make something that tastes good and looks good and feels good, so we have it easy. Going into the tissue engineering field and using the practices that are currently being researched and applying that to making 3-D meat products is definitely doable and hopefully something that we’ll be seeing on a large scale hopefully within the next 10 years, if not earlier. Depends on how many people get involved. So, I would say yes, tissue engineering, computer science, protein engineering, your basic biology, molecular biology, cellular biology.

Then, outside of the biology field, I would say engineering in general. We need people designing bioreactors, designing the factories that are going to be used for the scale-up process of it. We need sensory analysts, people that understand the science behind taste bud reception and the proteins that are involved in being recepted by those different taste buds that go on to trigger responses in your brain that tell you to taste what you’re tasting.

Then, people that understand the process of changing up the taste, knowing if this taste is too bitter, or if this taste is too tough, and kind of holding those consumer acceptance studies around the products that they’re eating. That will be something also extremely important, and I would say extremely important right now considering the state that the field is in where we’re looking at products that should be coming on the market by the end of the year. It would be good to have those taste-testing measures in place just so when something does come out, it tastes good.

Then, on the other side of things even more so, not even necessarily related to physical science and biological science, but people that are interested in entrepreneurship, interested in the psychology, the consumer acceptance … These types of people are also going to be extremely valuable because we have the scientists, and we are constantly looking for more. But in most cases, scientists are not necessarily businessmen, and so having somebody that is aware of the shifts in the market and what investors are looking for, someone that scientists can pair up with when they have their aha moments, will be extremely useful as well.

And obviously, consumer acceptance studies, understanding the psychology behind the products that we’re going to be selling to people. We can make as many products as we want. If people are not going to eat them, then it’s not going to work. I would say that any of those fields, anything that you’re good at that sticks out to you is something 100% worth exploring because they can definitely be applied to cellular agriculture.

Natalie Cargill: No shortage of ways to get involved, then? That’s really great. Thank you. I hadn’t thought of the machine learning angle, actually. That’s very interesting, and hopefully some of our listeners … That will have piqued their interest as well. For people who have studied one of these very many well-open areas, or they’re perhaps coming to the end of their studies, what concrete steps should they take if they’re really sold on this and really want to do whatever they can to make a difference? Are there people they should contact? Are there jobs they should apply for? Are there any other sort of smart moves that they can take right now to get ahead on this?

Marie Gibbons: Well, I mean, if they are looking to join a company, I can’t think of a single clean meat company that isn’t looking for scientists right now. While, if you are to look onto their website, and they have all of these application requirements, even if you don’t meet every single one of those application requirements, you better send in your application. Because they’re either putting that up there just hoping, fingers crossed, that somebody might somewhere in the universe have everything, but at the same time, maybe they don’t know that they need you yet. So, do not be put off by the fact that you may not meet every single requirement.

That was actually something that I did for quite a while. Before I applied for a grant, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be accepted because I didn’t have a whole bunch of background in biochemistry and in cell culture. All my background was in veterinary medicine. In the end, it didn’t matter because I was able to learn on the job, and I was passionate about what I was doing. I would say apply everywhere, everywhere that you think you’d be a good fit. There’s no harm in applying. I would be extremely surprised if you at least didn’t get a chance to talk to some of these people, and then they can kind of tell you what they’re looking for. Maybe you’re not the best fit at the moment, but at least they’ll have you on file later on, and maybe they’d be able to direct you in another area.

Yeah, I would say definitely just applying for the jobs, that’s … You’re not going to be able to get a job unless you apply for it. Now, alternatively, if you think you have what it takes to go and start your own company, then that’s what you need to do as well. Because the more money that we have coming into the clean meat field in the form of new companies is extremely effective. If you’re a scientist, and you’re able to find an entrepreneur to pair up with and vice versa, and you guys think that you have something novel or something that would be helpful, then go and start your own company, absolutely. Absolutely.

Then additionally, depending on where you are in your studies, if you have a bachelor’s or a master’s, and you want to get a PhD, or if you’re just interested in a master’s, or if you want to get a postdoc, New Harvest and The Good Food Institute … They’re always accepting applications for funding research. If you approach them and talk about some potential projects that you’d be interested in, it’s very important that you have some professors on board or some potential professors on board. I would find it very surprising if you were to walk up to a professor and say, “Hey, what you’re doing is extremely applicable to what I’m interested in. By the way, I have an organization that might be willing to give you a few hundred thousand dollars to study this.”

I’d be very surprised if they said, “No, go away.” I think that the tricky part there is really finding the best project for everyone. I will tell you that if you do end up going that route, don’t be surprised if when you write your first grant proposal or however many grant proposals you’ve written before, that if it comes back saying, “Look, this needs to be changed.” Don’t let that put you off, because that’s what happened to me. First time I wrote one, they said, “This is great, but we want you to do something different.” So, I just rewrote it, and it worked.

Natalie Cargill: Excellent advice. I wholeheartedly endorse just apply for the job. We’ll post the links to GFI and the other resources that you mentioned in the blog. In my very limited experience at least, I’ve found people working within clean meat are astonishingly helpful and really spend time with individuals to figure out how their skills could fit into the overall process. It’s an interesting industry because it’s an industry in which many of the people in it are …

As you say, they’re not in it to make a quick buck. They are there to change the world, and that changes the dynamic, I think, between … Normally, when you’re applying for the job, it’s sort of what can I do to impress you? But here, it really does seem to be a two-way communication of how can I best use the skills I have or the skills I could develop to further this field? I found that to be really, really nice, so I would absolutely say apply for the jobs, or the grants, or the university courses, whatever it is, but apply.

Marie Gibbons: I would absolutely agree with you. Absolutely. I think it’s also important that you’re going into this with the same mindset, not to make a quick buck, but to change the world, to make the world a better place. If that’s the mindset that you’re going in with, then we’re going to pick up on that. We’re going to find a place for you because those are the types of people that we want to work with.

Natalie Cargill: That is awesome. Marie, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Are there any final things you would like to say to our listeners about clean meat and why they should look into it?

Marie Gibbons: Well, I would just like to say get ready, because it’s coming, and it’s going to change the world like nothing ever has. I couldn’t be more excited about it. If there’s any questions, if anybody would like me to speak a little bit more on some of the subjects that we touched on, and especially if anybody has any comments on what I’ve said in terms of other possibilities or something that they don’t quite understand or something that they think might be wrong, I would love to hear from you because that’s how I learn. I really thank you so much for having me on here, and I’m looking forward to getting some feedback about what else we can do to move the field forward.

Natalie Cargill: Thank you so much, Marie.

Marie Gibbons: Thank you, Natalie.

Robert Wiblin: If you’d like to follow Natalie Cargill you can find her on Twitter. She’s also behind our excellent career review on earning to give via legal careers in the UK, which we’ll put up a link to.

The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced by Keiran Harris.

Thanks for joining, talk to you next week.

About the show

The 80,000 Hours Podcast features unusually in-depth interviews with people working to solve the world's most pressing problems. We invite guests pursuing a wide range of career paths - from academics and activists to entrepreneurs - to share their wisdom, so that you can better understand the world and have a greater impact with your career.

The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced and edited by Keiran Harris. Get in touch with feedback or guest suggestions by emailing keiran at 80000 hours dot org.

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