Is Lab-Grown Leather the Next Wardrobe Staple?

D-briefBy Lauren SigfussonSep 22, 2017 8:21 PM


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(Credit: Modern Meadow) Leather jackets are a must-have in many wardrobes. While some adore genuine leather straight from our bovine buds, others seek alternatives to genuine leather, whether due to price or their stance on animal products. This could be their new go-to substitute: lab-grown leather. New York-based Modern Meadow has ditched the cow in favor of growing leather in a lab. Growing materials otherwise found in nature isn’t new; we’ve seen scientists working on in vitro meat and teeth. Leather is a $100 billion raw material market and is a co-product of the meat industry, which means it tends to fluctuate in price, quality and availability, said Modern Meadow co-founder and CEO Andras Forgacs in a statement last year. The company hopes to commercialize what it calls “biofabricated leather.”

Hell Bent for Lab-Grown Leather

For full effect, turn up the Judas Priest while reading the rest of the article. Biofabrication is the process of growing materials originally found in nature using living cells instead of animals is called. Modern Meadow starts biofabricating leather by cultivating collagen, which is considered the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom — people also inject it to get rid of pesky wrinkles. Using the DNA editing tools to cut and replace specified base pairs, Modern Meadow engineers yeast cells that produce collagen, which is eventually assembled to create a "hide". And of course the leather is then tanned, a chemical process that prevents decay, just like when it comes from cows. “Until a couple years ago, we were still using tissue engineering to produce lab-scale volumes of collagen. Now, using our proprietary biofabrication process, we are producing animal-free, recombinant collagen that rivals any collagen currently on the market,” said CTO Dave Williamson during the annual meeting of the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology. “This shows that it’s possible not only to create breakthrough materials but to do so at an industrial scale.” Can't wait to get your hands on this new-age take on a much-loved material? Sorry, it’s not available for purchase, at least not yet. But you can get a glimpse of the first lab-grown leather clothing item at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City beginning in October. Williamson told The Atlantic that Modern Meadow’s T-shirt “will change the way you think about leather.” But here's the big, crucial question: Will Modern Meadow's product have that sweet, sweet smell that many associate with leather?

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