Mission & Vision
Our mission is to build and establish the field of cellular agriculture.
Our vision is a strong foundation of accessible, public, fundamental cellular agriculture research, upon which a post-animal bioeconomy may be built, where animal products are harvested from cell cultures, not animals, to feed a growing global population sustainably and affordably.
New Harvest is advancing the science behind producing animal products without animals. For example, egg white proteins made by bioreactors instead of laying hens in battery cages.
It is time to re-think the supply chain of animal products.
By applying advances in tissue engineering and synthetic biology to growing food, we can revolutionize the supply chain of animal products to continue to provide affordable and sustainable food to a growing population. We call this "cellular agriculture."
Cellular agriculture is an emerging field of research that lies at the intersection of medical science and food science. There is expertise in tissue engineering and cell culture in medical science, while the application of this work is in food science. Unfortunately, neither of these fields have taken ownership of cellular agriculture, which is why New Harvest is the sole group advancing this work.
Thanks to cellular agriculture, we can produce eggs, milk, meat, and more without intensive crop and animal farming. Unfortunately, this nascent field is not well supported by existing research funding mechanisms.
This is where New Harvest comes in.
Our goal is to plant the seeds of this crucial new field of research.
What We Do
We are spearheading the next (r)evolution in agriculture: Cellular Agriculture.
Cellular agriculture allows us to make milk, eggs, meat, leather, and other animal products from cell cultures rather than from whole animals.
While this is a field that holds vast potential, it is still not adequately supported by established funding channels.
This is where New Harvest comes in:
WE FUND AND CONDUCT
critical open, public, collaborative research that effectively advances discoveries in cellular agriculture but is lacking support from conventional funding channels in industry or academia.
WE BRING TOGETHER THE COMMUNITY
that is building this field (scientists, academia, funders, industry, policy-makers, regulatory authorities, prospective consumers, etc.), fostering dialogues and collaboration.
WE EDUCATE AND INFORM
stakeholders and the public at large of what cellular agriculture research is, and why it is necessary, in an honest, transparent, science-based manner.
Cellular agriculture is the production of agricultural products from cell cultures.
There are two kinds of agricultural products: acellular products and cellular products. Acellular products are made of organic molecules like proteins and fats and contain no cellular or living material. Cellular products are made of living or once-living cells.
Agricultural products can be classified as acellular (without cells) or cellular (containing cells).
Products harvested from cell cultures are exactly the same as those harvested from an animal or a plant; the only difference is how they are made.
How to make acellular products with cellular agriculture
Acellular animal products are made without animals by using a microbe like yeast or bacteria.
To create a starter culture that can make animal proteins: look up the gene for the protein online and insert the protein gene into a microbe. The microbe will now be able to make the proteins you were looking for. You will only have to create this starter culture once.
In the example of milk made in yeast, the yeast were altered by inserting in them the gene carrying the blueprints for casein, a milk protein. Since all cells read the same genetic code, the yeast, now carrying so-called recombinant DNA, makes casein identical to the casein cows make.
Milk is usually made by mother cows kept in a lactating state in an industrial setting. Instead, we can make the exact same milk by brewing it, using a culture that consumes simple sugars to make milk proteins.
We have made acellular animal products in cell cultures before.
Animal insulin could be considered the first cellular agriculture product. In 1922, Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and James Collip treated the first diabetic patient with an insulin injection. Insulin was originally collected from the ground-up pancreases of pigs or cattle. In 1978, Arthur Riggs, Keiichi Itakura, and Herbert Boyer inserted the gene carrying the blueprints for human insulin into a bacteria, so the bacteria could make insulin identical to the insulin that humans make. Today, the vast majority of insulin is made by this engineered yeast or bacteria. This has made the insulin supply safer, more consistent, and identical to the insulin humans produce.
For the first 60 years of its use as a treatment for patients with diabetes, animal insulin was collected from the ground up pancreases of pigs and cattle. Today, it is made by microbes who produce the human form of insulin.
We make a food animal product without animals already, too. Rennet is a mixture of enzymes that turns milk into curds and whey in cheesemaking. Traditionally, rennet is extracted from the inner lining of the fourth stomach of calves. On March 24, 1990, the FDA approved a bacteria that had been genetically engineered to produce rennet, making it the first genetically engineered product for food. Today, the majority of cheesemaking uses rennet enzymes from genetically engineered bacteria, fungi, or yeasts. Rennet harvested from cell cultures is purer, more consistent, and less expensive than animal-derived rennet.
Rennet originally was collected from the fourth stomach of young calves. Today, it is made by microbes who produce rennet enzymes.
These examples go beyond animal products.
A Swiss company called Evolva is making vanillin (the primary component of vanilla flavor) from yeast. The vast majority of vanillin is produced from petrochemicals or chemically derived from lignin (a constituent of most plant cell walls). The small percentage of vanillin from vanilla beans is harvested in tropical forests from the vanilla orchid. A cultured vanillin would avoid rainforest farming and chemical synthesis of vanilla.
Ginkgo Bioworks, a company based in Boston, is using cellular agriculture to produce flower fragrances from engineered microbes rather than from flowers.
How to make cellular products with cellular agriculture
Most cellular products exist in tissues. Tissues are made outside the body in a process called tissue engineering. Cells from a particular species and tissue type are assembled on a scaffold (to grow on) with serum (food for the cells to feed on while they grow) in an environment that promotes growth.
Today, tissue engineering is a relatively new scientific pursuit, with a focus on clinical applications such as growing skin for burn victims, or organs for patients requiring organ transplantation. The focus is on the tissue having a biological function -- in other words, the tissue engineered organ needs to be able to work in a living person.
A major goal in tissue engineering today is to grow functional organs for patients. A biopsy is taken from the patient, and the organ is grown with the patient's cells on a suitable scaffold. The goal is an organ that can be transplanted into the patient without being rejected.
While the science behind growing tissue for an organ transplant is similar to growing muscle tissue for food, both come with a set of very different considerations. For example, tissues for meat or leather do not need to work as an organ in someone’s body. Instead, meat needs to have a particular nutritional value, mouthfeel, or taste. Leather needs to have a certain strength, texture, or softness. All cellular agriculture products need to be made affordably -- that means producing tissues at a scale much larger than what is required for patients requiring organ transplants.
The technology behind growing organs for human patients is quite similar to that used to grow a steak. The main difference is that the steak doesn't need to "work" inside a body, and instead has to be tasty, with a good mouthfeel and adequate nutritional value.
In our bodies, blood vessels bring nutrients and remove waste products from our tissues. This allows the tissues in our bodies to be quite thick. But if you do not have vessels, the cells do not have access to what they need to grow. In culture, tissues can only grow about 0.5mm thick without vessels. For growing organs for medical purposes, this is a problem. But for growing cultured meat, it may not be.
Because cells can only grow about 0.5mm thick in culture, it is easier to grow ground meat than something thick like a steak. Muscle cells could be grown on beads, which offer a lot of surface area, in a bioreactor, and when the muscle cells are removed, it will already have the consistency of hamburger.
The benefits of cellular agriculture
Compared to their conventional counterparts, cellular agriculture products have fewer environmental impacts, a safer, purer product, and a more consistent supply. This is because the product is being produced in safe, sterile, controlled conditions.
Another exciting aspect of cellular agriculture is the ability to design and tune what you are making. For instance, you could make meat with fewer saturated fats and more unsaturated fats, or you could make leather of different thicknesses. You could make milk without lactose, or eggs without cholesterol.
Despite the benefits and opportunities presented by cellular agriculture, it remains an underfunded area of research.
Have more questions about cellular agriculture? Ask us!
The Status Quo
The way we mass-produce animal products today is a serious threat to the environment, public health, and animals.
- 18% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming. By contrast, global transportation accounts for 13%.1
- 26% Earth’s ice-free surface is used for livestock farming. This represents 70% of all agricultural land.2
- 27-29% of humanity’s freshwater footprint is used for the production of animal products.3
- Livestock farming is a top contributor to deforestation, land degradation, water pollution and desertification.4
Public Health Impact
- Viral Outbreaks: Epidemic viruses arise from the crowded conditions of livestock farming. Swine and avian flu, which affected people all over the world, originated from livestock farming.
- Antibiotic Resistance: About 80% of all antibiotics are given to livestock. These are the same antibiotics used by humans, and is therefore the largest contributor to antibiotic resistance.
- Food Contamination: Virtually all bacterial-contamination-caused foodborne illness arises from livestock farming. Foodborne bacteria like Salmonella spp. and E.coli come from animal waste and can contaminate animal products as well as fruits and vegetables.
Further, by their very nature as living, sentient beings, animals pose potentially costly risks all along the livestock product supply chain.
- An Insecure Supply: Disease can spread very quickly among crowded animals, leading to drastic losses for farmers. For example, in May 2015, as a result of an avian flu in the Midwest United States, 48 million chickens were culled, costing the American taxpayer almost $1bn, sending the price of eggs up by 84.5% between May and June 2015.5
- An Inconsistent Supply: Animal products must be constantly quality controlled, as the product is affected by the environment, diet and health of the animals. There is a huge amount of variation in animal products, despite major efforts to maintain consistency.
- An Unsafe Supply: Animal products are regularly recalled due to, among other things, contamination from foodborne-illness causing bacteria. Food-borne illnesses are estimated to cost about $152 bn a year in the United States.6
The Impact on Animals
In 2007, the FAO estimated that more than 56 billion land animals were raised and slaughtered for food. A large proportion of these animals are raised in very poor welfare conditions in factory farms. Some of the practices that farmed animals endure include:
- Intense confinement
- Castration without painkillers
- Illness without veterinary care or euthanasia
- Trampling and suffocation from overcrowding
- Being transported long distances, live
- Being dragged or prodded to slaughter
- Imperfect slaughter procedures
The FAO anticipates global demand for animal products to increase by 70% in 2050, to feed 9.6 billion people. The further mass production of animals will only lead to more animal welfare challenges.
Considering the impacts, threats, and challenges of livestock farming, it is extremely important that we explore different ways to feed our growing global population.
Cellular agriculture could be how we safely and sustainably feed our growing global population.
- Steinfeld, Henning (2006) Livestock's long shadow: environmental issues and options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Ibid FAO (2006) and in FAO 2012 Report Livestock and Landscapes
- Hoekstra, Arjen Y. (2012) The hidden water resource use behind meat and dairy, Twente Water Centre, University of Twente, PO Box 217, 7522AE Enschede, the Netherlands
- Koneswaran, Gowri et al. (2008) Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming: Impacting and Mitigating Climate Change. Environmental Health Perspectives. 116.5 (2008): 578–582. PMC. (retrieved 28 Apr. 2015)
- US Department of Labor statistics
- Hoffmann, Sandra et al. (2012) Annual Cost of Illness and Quality-Adjusted Life Year Losses in the United States Due to 14 Foodborne Pathogens, Journal of Food Protection®, Number 7, July 2012, pp. 1184-1358, pp. 1292-1302(11)
New Harvest was founded in 2004 by Jason Matheny, who now sits on our Board of Directors. Jason became interested in cultured meat after researching infectious diseases in India for a Master’s degree in public health. After touring a poultry farm outside Delhi, he recognized the need for a new way to meet a global demand for meat.
When Jason returned to the States, he read about a NASA-funded project that “grew” goldfish meat to explore food possibilities for astronauts on long-range space missions. He contacted all 60 of the cited authors and teamed up with three to consider the viability of producing cultured meat on a large scale. He founded New Harvest June 23, 2004.
In late 2004, New Harvest was invited to present on cultured meat at the PROFETAS (PROtein Foods, Environment, Technology, and Society) conference in Wageningen, in the Netherlands. Following this, Jason met with the Dutch Agriculture Minister to advise on funding cultured meat research.
On May 1, 2005, the Dutch cultured meat project began. It was a €2 million project that was to be subdivided into 3 different areas: 1) stem cell biology, conducted at Utrecht University; 2) tissue engineering, conducted at Eindhoven Technical University; and 3) culture media, conducted at the University of Amsterdam.
In 2005, Pieter Edelman, Doug MacFarland, Vladimir Mironov, and Jason Matheny published “In vitro cultured meat production” in the journal Tissue Engineering. It generated considerable public and scientific interest in cultured meat and in New Harvest. This was the first modern-day scientific publication on an idea that has been around for nearly a century.
In 2006, New Harvest began to provide funding from its donors to the Dutch cultured meat effort.
In 2007, New Harvest began collaborating with the Europe-based In Vitro Meat Consortium. Stig William Omholt of Norway played a key role in the development of the Consortium, whose mission was “to promote scientific excellence and to coordinate and fund research contributing to the establishment of competitive alternatives to conventional meat production.” On April 9, 2008, the Consortium put on the First International In-Vitro Meat Symposium, which took place at the Norwegian Food Research Institute in Norway. Unfortunately, the Consortium dissipated shortly after due to a lack of funding dedicated to cultured meat.
In August 2011, the European Science Foundation put on an exploratory workshop called “In vitro meat: Possibilities and realities for an alternative future meat source” in Gothenburg, Sweden, convened by Julie Gold and Stellan Welin. The main objectives of the workshop were to assess the state-of-the-art of the field and to identify major bottlenecks, and competences needed in order to overcome them. It was at this conference when the scientific community decided to use the term “cultured meat” as opposed to “in vitro meat.”
In September of 2012, New Harvest put on the seminar “Tissue Engineered Nutrition” at the TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society) World Congress in Vienna, Austria.
Meanwhile, in 2009, our current CEO, Isha, was studying cell and molecular biology at the University of Alberta. In her last year, she took a graduate level class on meat science, a departure from most of her coursework. In this class, Isha came to realize that re-thinking animal agriculture would be a very impactful way to ignite change. Her Professor, Dr. Mirko Betti, had read about cultured meat in a book called Futurizzazione by Carlo Pelanda in the early 2000s and attended the TERMIS meeting in Vienna. He shared the idea of growing meat in cell cultures rather than in livestock with Isha and the rest of the class.
Because Isha came from a biology background rather than an agriculture background, she was well prepared to investigate cultured meat from a biology perspective. Isha wrote her term paper on cultured meat, drawing from advances in medical research and applying them to making food. Isha sent the paper to Jason, who connected her to a community of scientists who encouraged her to publish her work. The paper, “Possibilities for an in-Vitro meat production system” was published in Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies in 2010.
In 2012, Jason was searching for an Executive Director to take the reins at New Harvest full-time. Isha was hired and began her role at New Harvest on January 14, 2013. This era of New Harvest saw the organization start and incubate companies, fund groundbreaking research, and attract more talent and resources to this important emerging field. The team grew to include Erin Kim (a volunteer since 2014) in 2016; and Kate Krueger in 2017. Today, New Harvest's main focus is on its core activity of funding open academic research through its Fellowship Program.
Isha has been pioneering the field of cellular agriculture since 2009, when she began a deep-dive investigation into the technical challenges and opportunities involved in producing cultured meat. In 2010 Isha published "Possibilities for an in-vitro meat production system" in the food science journal Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies.
She quickly discovered that cellular agriculture research was not held back by a lack of interest or expertise, but instead by a lack of designated funding channels directed at this intersectional work. Thus began her quest to establish the field of animal products made without animals, one recognized by researchers, funding agencies, and investors.
A stint in Policy and Public Affairs at GlaxoSmithKline illuminated the cooperative relationship between non-profits, academia, and companies in translating beneficial science out of the lab and into society. Isha has used a model established in the advancement of medical research to accelerate cellular agriculture, by funding early stage, foundational research in academia in order for ready-to-market technologies to be developed for commercial use.
Isha became Executive Director of New Harvest in January 2013. She co-founded Muufri, making milk without cows, in April 2014 and Clara Foods, making eggs without chickens, in November 2014.
Isha has a BSc. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Alberta and a Masters in Biotechnology from the University of Toronto.
Isha enjoys rooftops, houseplants, long walks through the city, and the freedom of not owning a car.
Kate Krueger, PhD
Kate began working in cellular agriculture as an intern at Perfect Day Foods (formerly Muufri) developing strategies to make milk proteins. She has a background in protein biochemistry and cell biology, and completed her PhD in May 2017.
While in graduate school, she created and instructed at Clones to Crystals, an 8-week undergraduate laboratory course covering the basics of cloning, protein purification, and crystallization trials. She also co-founded and ran Learn to Code, a data science bootcamp for women, teaching 50+ students the basics of data science and software development in Python. Her research focused on how insects use their immune systems to fight disease, particularly the biochemistry of thioester containing proteins (TEPs), a family of insect immune proteins. She has extensive research experience in biochemistry, structural biology, and cell biology.
She holds a PhD in Cell Biology from Yale University and an AB in Biochemistry from Mount Holyoke College, and is a proud native of Federal Way, Washington. She is can often be found hiking or brewing hard cider.
Board of Directors
Scott built his career by identifying new markets and shaping innovative products for them. In 1995, he identified search engines as a significant advertising medium and invented the first products to automate marketing across multiple search engines, ultimately creating the bid-for-placement business model. As an initial investor and Director at PayPal, he was a co-inventor of the 'email payments' product now widely used on eBay. In 2000, Scott saw opportunity in the rapid growth of email traffic, co-founding IronPort Systems and serving as CTO. Scott is now a successful angel investor with past or present investments in Zappos, Ekso Bionics, Practice Fusion, ClassPass, Bell Biosystems, Bridge International Academies, Moon Express, Postmates, Thumbtack, and Uber.
Jason Matheny founded New Harvest in 2004. He became director of Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) in 2015, after serving as a program manager, associate office director, and office director. He previously worked for the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, where his work focused on existential risks, the World Bank, the Center for Biosecurity, the Center for Global Development, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and on national security projects for the US government. He holds a PhD in Applied Economics from Johns Hopkins University, an MPH from Johns Hopkins, an MBA from Duke University, and a BA from the University of Chicago. He has published on biotechnology, neurotechnology, risk analysis, demography, economics, and bioethics.
Karien is an advocate for openness and supporter of social entrepreneurs. She has played various roles within the Shuttleworth Foundation, facing new challenges and learning every step of the way. She now focuses on the Shuttleworth Fellowship Program - engaging with issues of openness and social change, identifying potential investments and working closely with Fellows towards realising their vision.
She is a native of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, and the smell of rain after a dry spell still makes her think of home. She believes elephants have noble hearts and is passionate about their protection and conservation. It is rare for a meme to pass her by, she always knows what's up in the collective mind of the Internet. Karien studied business and economics at the business schools of the University of Stellenbosch and University of Cape Town.
Caleb Harper is the Principal Investigator and Director of the Open Agriculture (OpenAg) Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. He leads a diverse group of engineers, architects and scientists in the exploration and development of the future food systems. Caleb’s research focuses in the areas of control environment design, actuated sensing, control automation and data-driven resource, energy and biologic optimization. His group is developing an open-source agricultural hardware, software and data common with the goal of creating a more agile, transparent and collaborative food system.
Caleb is a National Geographic Explorer and a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) New Vision for Agriculture Transformation Leaders Network. His work has been featured by TIME, WIRED, The Economist, IEEE, World Urban Forum (WUF), USAID and TED. Prior to joining the Media Lab in 2011, Caleb worked professionally as an Architect designing and developing data centers, health care and semi-conductor fabrication facilities. Additionally, he has consulted with multiple international development agencies including USAID, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Delhi Development Authority on high-density urban development projects.