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Industry Innovation

An Overview of Synthetic Food

Synthetic Food: The Future of Food Production?

Synthetic Food laboratory

he issue of food security is becoming more pressing as the world's population continues to expand. To address this, there have been recent attempts to create synthetic food as a way to minimize the environmental impact of increasing food production. However, there are obstacles that hinder the widespread adoption of synthetic food.

Increasing popularity of artificial foods

Based on current projections, it is predicted that agriculture will only be able to feed 8 billion people by 2050, which is insufficient for the estimated global population of over 9 billion. The issue of food scarcity is further compounded by factors such as climate change and shrinking land availability. As a result, there has been a growing interest in synthetic foods as a potential solution among consumers and stakeholders.

Synthetic foods are food substances or products that are created artificially instead of being produced through natural methods. They are also known as artificial foods and often mimic the traits of natural foods such as their visual, tactile, and gustatory qualities. These types of foods are typically made in a controlled laboratory setting.

In order to create artificial food, the first step is to identify the genetic sequences responsible for its defining characteristics. These sequences are then reproduced in a lab setting and inserted into yeast or bacteria, where they are able to produce the desired proteins. The production of meat follows a slightly different process, using animal stem cells that have the ability to differentiate into various cell types and ultimately form artificial meat tissue.

During the production process, essential tools play a crucial role in enhancing the qualities of the desired food products.

Pluripotent stem cells play a vital role in the development of various specialized cells within tissues. The growth of food is facilitated by media containing growth factors, which are crucial in regulating the speed and excellence of synthetic food production. Additionally, scaffolds are incorporated into the growth media to support the expansion and formation of the desired texture, size, and firmness of the final food product.

The growth media, also referred to as culture media, plays a vital role in facilitating the growth of the target tissue. It consists of essential carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and salts which serve as the foundations for the exponential increase of cell populations until the desired product is achieved.

The current result of this procedure has resulted in a variety of products that are now accessible for consumption globally. These include the highly sought-after fake meat burger and algae-based shrimp, as well as a selection of vegan cheeses.

The beginnings of artificial food production

The field of synthetic biology was initially created to tackle various problems, but it was later adopted as a means of producing food. Its early applications included the development of medicines, functional bacterial cells for cleaning up oil spills and pollution, and the creation of biofuels. Over time, synthetic biology has grown in both its techniques and its uses.

The idea of artificial foods emerged in the 1950s when NASA first started developing ways to produce food in space without relying on animals, in order to extend space missions.

The early stages of product development involved the utilization of microorganisms, specifically yeast. These organisms have proven to be highly beneficial as they are able to thrive on various substrates, such as sugar or even non-edible substances like petroleum hydrocarbons. As a result, they have become a readily accessible and adaptable source of protein, making them a valuable asset in the field of synthetic biology.

Are synthetic foods be a viable substitute for meat production in terms of sustainability?

The meat industry is acknowledged to create various long-term problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions and the need for a significant amount of arable land, within modern agricultural methods. In the future, there will be a need for a 50-73% increase in meat production to support the population growth in 2050, which will only worsen the current issues.

"We are reinventing the entire system of meat production and consumption, making delicious, nutritious and sustainable meat from plants." Patrick O. Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods.

A team of researchers from Australia and France conducted a joint study in 2017 to examine the main obstacles faced by the meat industry in meeting the demands of a growing population, as well as the potential solutions being developed to address these challenges.

In particular, scientists have identified potential alternative measures, stemming from existing constraints on meat production, that could mitigate the environmental consequences and simultaneously enhance overall output. These strategies, which can be implemented within the meat sector, involve the promotion of various technologies such as selective breeding, agroecology systems, animal cloning, and genetic modification, and are likely to yield significant benefits.

Meat substitutes have the potential to be created utilizing methods such as in vitro culturing and three-dimensional printing. It is anticipated by the researchers that these substitutes will gain a bigger portion of the market by competing with inexpensive meat options such as low-grade cuts, sausages, ground meat, and processed meat.

The topic of synthetic meat systems was also brought up, with concerns about obstacles to their commercialization and widespread use being addressed. These potential barriers, such as consumer perceptions, could potentially impact their success in the market.

The frequent praise for synthetic meat systems is due to its ability to reduce environmental costs during the production process. This recognized advantage was investigated through a study that compared the environmental footprint of both synthetic and natural meat production, both presently and in the future.

In 2019, John Lynch and Raymond Pierrehumbert conducted a study using climate models to simulate the effects of greenhouse gases, without utilizing carbon dioxide equivalent measures. Their findings, which compared the temperature impact of beef cattle and cultured meat production over a span of 1000 years, revealed that cattle systems are responsible for all greenhouse gas emissions, while the majority of cultured meat emissions come from CO2 generated through energy production.

The authors acknowledge that it is not surprising to come across these results, but they argue that cultured meat still has environmental consequences due to its reliance on decarbonized energy. While producing synthetic meat can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it still depends on other sources of energy that could potentially result in limited and uncertain impacts.

Obstacles in the Future of Artificial Food Development

According to a study conducted in 2018 by Stephens et al., there are five main challenges that need to be addressed before synthetic food can be widely accepted. These challenges include sourcing cells, developing standardized culture media, replicating the natural environment for cell growth, selecting suitable materials from both animal and synthetic sources, and establishing bioprocessing methods for large-scale production.

"Synthetic food is not food... It is denying the diversity of our diets and the freedom of choice in our diets." Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, ecofeminist and anti-globalization author.

According to the research, the focus on societal views in the shift towards new processing methods has primarily centered around ethical concerns and consumer approval. However, it is important to also consider the political, economic, and institutional factors that play a significant role in replacing the traditional meat industry with synthetic meat.

In 2019, Rob Burton studied and analyzed the potential consequences of a transition to synthetic meat production by comparing it to past historical substitutions. This change has been observed before, causing a rapid decline in agricultural industries such as alizarin (madder), indigotin (indigo), and vanillin (vanilla).

The possibility of causing harm to farmers and stakeholders may worsen the uncertainty surrounding this transition. However, the research suggests that instead of completely replacing the meat industry, it is more probable that a segmented market with different forms of protein production will develop in the future. They argue that this development could bring about significant changes to the industry.


Synthetic food production is an emerging field with the potential to address the challenges of increasing food demand. Synthetic food production presents both opportunities and challenges, with ongoing research and development aimed at addressing concerns related to its widespread adoption and impact on existing food systems and the environment.

March 19, 2024