Cellular agriculture – the next leap forward from vertical farming

Vertical farming refers to the process of growing plants in stacked layers in the controlled conditions of greenhouses. In a broader sense, vertical agriculture could describe any resource-efficient food production in a closed and controlled environment. Cellular agriculture, the use of cells to produce food instead of multicellular organisms such as cows, is a natural extension to vertical farming­ – and the next big leap forward.

Biotechnology and cellular agriculture will replace some animal and plant-based ingredients in existing foods as well as create entirely new food products and business opportunities. Vertical agriculture as a whole is about providing better sustainability and resilience – producing food without causing harm to the environment and regardless of the challenges caused by a changing climate.

Farming without fields

Cellular agriculture extends the vertical farming concept by using bioreactors to ‘farm’ cells. These cells can produce certain proteins – a modified yeast can brew the proteins that make up milk, for example – or they can be grown as a ready-to-consume mass. This helps tackle some of the biggest issues relating to food production, such as ethical concerns about using animals as a source of food and the need for antibiotics in large-scale milk and meat production. What’s more, as agricultural land use is the main cause of biodiversity loss, a switch to closed vertical systems means food can be produced without affecting irreplaceable natural habitats.

The future is already here

Vertical farming and cellular agriculture are not the stuff of science fiction – they are already happening. Quorn – a meat substitute made of Fusarium microfungus grown in a tank – has been on the market since the 1980s and is projected to become a billion-dollar-a-year business within the next decade. New biotech production models are already challenging the dominant factory-farming model. Replacing valuable animal or plant-based ingredients that vary in price and quality also provides opportunities for established producers to achieve better product consistency and price stability, as well as introduce new and improved products to the market.

At VTT, we are building a sustainable world not only by improving the existing systems, but also by creating transformative changes for the better. We are leveraging our cutting-edge expertise in bio manufacturing and food engineering and working with key players in the field to test proof of concept for everything from ingredient replacements to the creation of entirely new products, supporting every phase of a project.

The food economy is ripe for disruption. Cellular agriculture, along with other fast-developing domains, are going to be as massive a change for food systems as the internet was for other businesses. The time has come to seize the opportunities this change offers and transform the future of farming.

Learn more about our thoughts on cellular agriculture

View our on-demand (17.5.2018) webinar:  Food without Fields -Cellular agriculture for sustainable food production

Download our Food 4.0 vision report

Lauri Reuter
Senior Specialist, Disruptive Technologies at VTT

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