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Lab-Grown Coffee As a Sustainable Solution

“Faux joe” is brewing in Finland as researchers taste their first cups of coffee made from lab-grown cells.

Similarly to how meat is being grown in bioreactors, researchers believe coffee can be grown from cells in a lab instead of being raised and harvested in a natural setting.  Tiny pieces of coffee leaves are paired with growth mediums and placed in a bioreactor to multiply further.

Researchers hope there could be many benefits related to sustainability and protecting the environment.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Freethink article, Scientists make sustainable coffee from lab-grown cells, by Kristin Houser, September 27, 2021; the CNBC article, Coffee production hurts the planet. Scientists think they may have another way, by Charmaine Jacob, December 15, 2021; and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: CORBIS.

Discussion Questions:

1.  How far along is this research, and when might there be the technology and capacity to make it viable for the consumer market?

Guidance: The first lab-grown coffee was tasted on September 15, 2021.  Realistically, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Although the trial brew tasted somewhat like regular coffee, much work is still needed to make something with high enough quality and flavor to really compete.

In terms fine tuning the flavor and having the capacity to product enough for a consumer market, researchers envision a four-year target. Thus, at present, the idea is in its earliest phases of research, and the introductory phase of the product life cycle might begin in four years.

2. What sustainability and capacity benefits could be realized from growing coffee cells in a lab?

Guidance: Environmental problems associated with coffee production, such as deforestation, and soil and water contamination from fertilizer and pesticides, could be reduced.  In addition, researchers envision benefits like using less water and reducing transportation costs by producing coffee closer to markets where it would be sold.  Lastly, crops are not affected by weather and can be grown and harvested multiple times throughout the year.

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