For the first time, researchers have succeeded in producing meat tissue in space using a 3D printer. The project was carried out on board the International Space Station (ISS) by a Russian laboratory and opens the door to the direct production of food in space to feed astronauts on long voyages. The absence of gravity is an advantage for the production of various tissues in 3D, but more complex equipment will be necessary in the future.
Voyaging into space is all well and good, but what are you going to eat? The concept of cosmonauts being able to enjoy a Sunday roast in space has become a little less far-fetched, after researchers managed to create meat on board the International Space Station (ISS) using a 3D printer. This breakthrough was made public on Wednesday 9 October by the Russian medical technology that was behind the achievement.
"Giant bite for mankind"
The tests were carried out in September by cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka within the Russian part of the ISS. The 3D printer used was made in Russia and enabled beef, rabbit and fish tissue to be artificially produced using magnetic fields in microgravity. The cells meanwhile were provided by US and Israeli suppliers.
According to those in charge of the project, this is the first time that a small quantity of artificial meat has been created in weightless conditions. "It’s one small nibble for man, a giant bite for mankind," declared Yusef Khesuani from the Moscow-based laboratory 3D Bioprinting Solutions at a press conference, referencing Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he walked on the Moon. "For us it’s a first experience of international scientific collaboration in space."
Gravity – a boon for tissue production
3D Bioprinting Solutions was founded by Invitro, a Russian pharmaceutical company, and the project was partly financed by the Russian space agency Roscosmos. "It’s a real breakthrough both for Roscosmos and for Russia as a whole," said Nikolai Burdeiny, executive director of the state space corporation.
The occupants of the ISS have already eaten meat in space which has first been vacuum-packed or dried on Earth as opposed to produced on board. In time, this new technology could be used on voyages far into space. "If we're going to fly further from Earth to other planets in the solar system, we can't take that volume of food with us," said Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. "In any case we will have to grow and produce food onboard the spaceship."
To produce larger quantities of meat on board the ISS or other space ships, equipment that is more complex than the current 3D printer will be required. Other space agencies are also carrying out experiments on the artificial production of tissue, which is easier in space than it is under gravity. In July, a US 3D printer was delivered to the ISS to produce human tissue, and has also been used by the European Space Agency (ESA).
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