Posted: March 17, 2022

Cellular agriculture development has the potential to change the food industry and society.

Depending on how it occurs, the development of cellular agriculture has the potential to either accelerate socioeconomic inequality or provide beneficial alternatives to the status quo.

That's the conclusion of a new study led by researchers in the college who assessed the potential trajectories for a new technology that synergizes computer science, biopharma, tissue engineering, and food science to grow cultured meat, dairy, and egg products from animal cells and/or genetically modified yeast.

The entities currently best positioned to capitalize on these innovations are large companies, according to researcher Robert Chiles, assistant professor of rural sociology.

"Nonetheless, new technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart agriculture, bioengineering, synthetic biology, and 3D printers are also being used to decentralize and personalize food manufacturing," he said. "They have the potential to democratize ownership and mobilize alternative economic organizations devoted to open-source licensing, member-owned cooperatives, social financing, and platform business models."

To assess cellular agriculture's potential trajectories, Chiles--a research associate at Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute--and colleagues attended 11 cellular agriculture and alternative economic organization events held around the United States over two years, interviewing key experts at those conferences and summits, and asking how they think the industry will and should develop. Likewise, the researchers collected data from an additional 21 conferences online.

'The study's findings, published in Agriculture and Human Values, affirm the argument for increased public investments in open-source research and education on cellular agriculture, particularly for community and household-level production.

--Jeff Mulhollem