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A Brooklyn-based startup wants to grow your next leather jacket in a lab

Dyllan Furness
While cultured meats emerge as a viable food source and potential solution to battling climate change, a Brooklyn-based startup has raised $53.5 million to commercialize lab-grown leather.

While cultured meats might soon be served for dinner, a Brooklyn-based startup has raised $53.5 million to fill your closet with lab-grown leather. In an animal-free process of biofabrication, Modern Meadow designs, grows, and binds collagen to form a network of fibers and a synthetic hide. They say the final product is practically indistinguishable from the leather stripped from animals.

“Modern Meadow leather is real leather,” a spokesman from the company told Digital Trends. “It’s biologically, biochemically identical to leather sourced from animals, but can be customized to be made even stronger, thinner, or more flexible than traditional leather.”

The Modern Meadow team has spent four years refining their craft and brings years of experience to the technology. After co-founding the bioprinting company Organovo, which specializes in growing human tissue for medicine and pharmaceutical research, Andrew Forgacs decided to challenge the $100 billion raw leather industry by turning the Organovo technique towards manufacturing the equivalent of hides.

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To create its leather, Modern Meadow first isolates base pairs of DNA, then creates unique DNA strands by cutting and replacing those original pairs with new pairs. The edited strands are packed with instructions about the type and quantity of collagen desired. By injecting this customized DNA into cells, Modern Meadow gives those instructions to living organisms that copy themselves and multiply into the billions. The multiplied cells generate collagen — the primary structural protein in animal connective tissue — that “form a network of fibers, which are assembled together, processed, and tanned to create the company’s unique hides,” Modern Meadow said.

Not only are no animals harmed in the process, but Modern Meadow insists its method requires less tanning, water, energy, and chemicals, while reducing waste by up to 80 percent compared to traditional leather manufacturing processes.

With a $40 million Series B funding round, Modern Meadow hopes to scale its business up and scale its production costs down. Within the next year, the startup plans to double their team, move into a larger work space, and take the step from research and development to commercialization.