A US company is working on creating 3D printed animal skin that could be used to make affordable leather tack for horses.
Until now the cheaper and more ethical alternative to leather saddles have been synthetic ones. But Modern Meadow is aiming to have a leather production company up and running in five years, thanks to funding from Paypal billionnaire, Peter Thiel.
There are also plans in place to produce edible meat, which co-founder Andras Forgacs hopes will ease the impact of the meat industry, which he describes as an "environmental train wreck". But for now the company's focus is on culturing skin tissue.
“Our emphasis first is not on meat, it’s on leather,” Forgacs said in the online magazine, Txchnologist. “The main reason is that, technically, skin is a simpler structure than meat, making it easier to produce.”
Unlike other companies that make artificial leather, Forgacs plans on producing real animal skin. He and his father, Gabor, have already invented bioprinting, a technology that uses computers and printers to create human tissues, for drug research purposes.
The technology behind this cutting-edge process isn’t new in itself, as 3D printing has been used in the design industry since the eighties. It enables actual three-dimensional products to be printed out layer by layer using a range of materials, such as plastic, powder and metal – or in this case, cells – which are then bound together to form solid objects.
These cells will be sourced by taking a small biopsy from livestock that would otherwise by used for food and leather.
“Nothing we’re doing requires a scientific leap of faith,” Forgacs says. “There’s no science we’re using that we’re not confident with. This isn’t about scientific risks, it’s about engineering challenges.”