Researchers in Iceland are growing over 100,000 genetically modified barley plants inside a greenhouse for a very unusual purpose: creating lab-grown meat, the BBC reports.
The altered barley gets harvested and purified to extract “growth factor” proteins, which, in turn, can be used to cultivate lab-grown meat — an innovation that could make the lab-grown meat industry rely even less on live animals in the future.
Field to Steak
The company behind the greenhouse, ORF Genetics, is growing the biogenetically engineered barley over 22,000 square feet using high-tech hydroponic cultivation methods.
The growth factors extracted from the barley’s seeds play an important role in the maintenance of stem cells. In 2010, ORF introduced a skincare product making use of the growth factors.
Just over ten years later, the company is hoping to enter the cell-cultured meat market. The growth factors stimulate the growth of tissues that make up these products, including animal muscle and fat cells.
“The population is rising and we have to feed all of the people,” ORF Genetics director of protein technology Arna Runarsdottir told the BBC.
If scientists can figure out how to produce it at scale, lab-grown meat would come with plenty of advantages that could help feed us all.
“We don’t have to kill all these animals, we just have to take the stem cell from them,” she added, noting that it’s a more viable and environmental option compared to conventionally grown meat.
According to the BBC, ORF’s growth factors are already being used by several companies making lab-grown meat products.
READ MORE: The plant with seeds that can grow meat [BBC]
More on lab-grown meat: The World’s First Lab Grown Meat Factory Just Opened Up