Lab-grown Meats Will Help to Address Climate Change

The protein sector is at a crossroads. On the one hand, global demand for animal protein has never been higher. On the other, meat and dairy already have an outsized hoofprint on the world’s farmlands. And with the climate crisis devastating natural and agricultural resources, we know the Earth’s ecosystems cannot support an expanded traditional agricultural sectorPlant-based protein has experienced rapid growth but is dwarfed by the size of the global meat protein market.

Enter cellular agriculture. Every day brings news of new venture capital funding, adding over US$9.7 billion in global investments. Cellular agriculture encompasses a raft of technologies and approaches that manufacture food and other products normally sourced from plants and animals including: dairy proteins, egg proteins, chocolate, honey, red meat, poultry, seafood, leather, silk and ingredients including sweeteners and flavourings. Cellular agriculture entered the public eye in 2013 when tissue engineering researcher Mark Post produced the first test-tube burger. This prototype cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but today, the same patty can be made for about 10 euros, or $15. In the past two years, dozens of companies have sprung up in Singapore, Israel and California to develop consumer products almost biologically identical to those traditionally sourced from plants and animals.

A few products are already in restaurants and on supermarket shelves. The cellular agriculture dairy company Perfect Day brews dairy proteins in bioreactors using yeast, much like a craft brewer produces beer. One of the largest plant-based food companies, Impossible Foods, uses cellular derived soy heme in its signature burger. Their Whoppers are for sale at Burger King and they have just raised a further US$500 million in investment capital to scale up production. The food-tech startup Eat Just mixes chicken proteins produced through cellular agriculture with plant-based ingredients to create an analogue to a chicken nugget.

Some current cellular agriculture technologies involve animal-based inputs such as stem cells and growth media. These products are not necessarily vegetarian, and so may not be universally accepted by consumers for cultural, religious or dietary reasons. That said, there is a huge potential to reduce water consumption, energy use, land use and greenhouse gases. While there are debates as the extent of the hoped-for environmental benefits, optimists are betting on the fact that carefully designed bioreactors using renewable energy will be more sustainable than a lot of the world’s livestock systems.

Highly Dangerous COVID Mutation Could Emerge in Cats

The recent suggestion that ministers may have to consider culling or vaccinating animals to prevent the coronavirus from picking up another dangerous mutation and jumping back to humans may sound like sudden panic, but it’s just part of a long debate among scientists.

Evidence that cats could be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, emerged as early as April 2020 from Wuhan, China. Evidence that they could also transmit the infection to other cats under particular conditions appeared in the same month. Since then, infections have been confirmed in mink in Denmark and the Netherlands, in big cats in zoos, in dogs, ferrets and a range of other species. It’s also worth remembering that the source of SARS-CoV-2 is probably bats and that other species of wildlife may also be infectable.

Infection of some of these species with SARS-CoV-2 can cause actual disease, creating veterinary, welfare or conservation problems. However, transmission to or from companion animals that spend a lot of time in close contact with people also presents extra problems for trying to control a pandemic in humans. For example, if transmission between humans and cats happens easily, then controlling the pandemic in people might require measures to prevent it, and that might include vaccinating and quarantining cats.

There is good evidence for transmission from humans to cats but very little evidence for transmission from cats to humans. Nor is there much evidence for transmission between cats in normal situations (that is, not in a laboratory). At the moment, there’s no real reason to be concerned that infections in cats are a major problem. You’re at much greater risk from your family and friends with COVID than from their cats, although you should take normal hygiene precautions you use to reduce the risks of catching other diseases (such as toxoplasmosis) from cats.


Mapping Genes Of All Complex Life On Earth

In an effort to protect and preserve the Earth’s biodiversity and kick-start an inclusive bio-economy, the World Economic Forum have announced a landmark partnership between the Earth BioGenome Project, chaired by Harris Lewin, distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis, and the Earth Bank of Codes to map the DNA of all life on Earth. The announcement was made at the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.

The Earth Biogenome Project aims to sequence the DNA of all the planet’s eukaryotessome 1.5 million known species including all known plants, animals and single-celled organisms. The ambitious project will take 10 years to complete and cost an estimated $4.7 billion. Of the estimated 15 million eukaryotic species, only 10 percent have been taxonomically classified. Of that percentage, scientists have sequenced the genomes of around 15,000 species, less than 0.1 percent of all life on Earth.

The partnership will construct a global biology infrastructure project to sequence life on the planet to enable solutions for preserving the Earth’s biodiversity, managing ecosystems, spawning bio-based industries and sustaining human societies,” said Lewin, who chairs the Earth BioGenome Project working group. Lewin holds appointments in the Department of Evolution and Ecology and the UC Davis Genome Center.