Animals

Real Leather Without the Cow

Researchers have found a way to culture cells in a lab and produce leather that's biologically identical to that made from animal skin.

<p>Thinkstock</p>

Cow ears are perking up everywhere at the news that Brooklyn-based startup company Modern Meadow just received another round of funding.

The company is working on sustainable leather materials that have no need for cows or any other animal.

This is no plastic-based "pleather." Nuh-uh. This material is cultured from living cells that produce collagen and proteins that create a "hide" that's biologically identical to leather made from cow skin.

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Modern Meadow has a nice explanation here about how they do it. But essentially, they edit DNA to instruct cells to manufacture certain types and quantities of proteins -- namely collagen, which gives skin its structure.

Next, they put the edited DNA into cells and let them multiply. Like little factories with instructions to manufacture parts, the cells crank out the necessary proteins.

The collagen proteins group together into fibers, which themselves group together to ultimately form the hide.

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From the material, designers can create garment, gloves, purses, shoes, belts, sofas or any other product normally made from leather. All this without the toxic process of tanning a hide.

Chief Creative Officer for Modern Meadow, Suzanne Lee, told Tech Crunch that the processes can be tweaked to vary the leather's flexibility, elasticity, thinness or thickness -- depending on the customer's wishes.

The company just received $40 million in funding to scale up the process beyond research and development.

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Modern Meadow is falling in line behind other companies such as Memphis Meats working to produce lab-grown meat products.

Moving the farm to the lab could, for the first time, make meat and leather sustainable products. Because these days, meat and leather are the opposite of sustainable.

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The industry wreaks havoc on the planet. It produces abundant greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, which are far more potent than carbon dioxide. It requires large swaths of land, water, grain, and forces billions of animals to lives of suffering.

I haven't even mentioned the drugs. superbugs-in-a7025031.html">Excessive use of antibiotics on industrial-scale farms is leading to the growth of superbugs in humans for which there is no treatment.

Scaling up lab-grown meat or leather will take some time, but this kind of innovation is just what the planet needs.