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Lab-grown vegetables

A new kind of 3D-printed carrot

By Obaydur RahmanPublished 6 months ago 3 min read
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A Breakthrough in Food Technology

In a quest to address the pressing issue of food insecurity on a global scale, two enterprising students in Qatar have pioneered a groundbreaking 3D printer that manufactures vegetables. Mohammad Annan, aged 20, and Lujain Al Mansoori, aged 21, have ingeniously harnessed artificially grown vegetable cells and UV light to create a prototype of an edible carrot, a feat never before achieved with vegetables.

A Triumph at the Qatar Development Bank Event

These two information systems students from Doha's Carnegie Mellon University showcased their pioneering invention at the Business Incubation and Acceleration Hackathon held in August, organized by the Qatar Development Bank. Notably, they clinched the top prize in the FoodTech category.

Crafting a 3D Printer from Scratch

Annan and Al Mansoori embarked on a journey of innovation by constructing their own 3D printer from the ground up. They scoured the globe for the necessary components, striving to design a machine that could revolutionize vegetable production.

Pushing the Boundaries of 3D Printing

Prior to their invention, 3D-printed edibles were primarily produced using purees of conventionally grown fruits or vegetables, typically to cater to individuals with dietary restrictions. However, these methods proved inadequate for large-scale production. Annan and Al Mansoori have pushed the envelope by building on masked stereolithography technology, which utilizes ultraviolet light to set the "inks." This innovation allows for swift and efficient bulk printing, a significant improvement over existing 3D printing techniques.

A Game-Changing Technology

"[Our] technology supports mass production because it uses ultraviolet light. While UV light printing with resin has been done before, using edible materials is a novel development," Annan explained. They have faced the challenge of making their technology accessible to the general public, acknowledging that it can seem complex.

Addressing the Challenge of Limited Arable Land

In a country like Qatar, where only 2.5 percent of the land is suitable for agriculture, the reliance on imports for food is a substantial concern. Annan noted that Qatar had been working to reduce this dependence by growing its own food, despite the considerable costs of converting non-agricultural land into arable land. The duo saw 3D printing and lab-grown vegetables as a viable alternative.

The Science Behind It

Utilizing a process known as plant cell culture, vegetable cells are cultivated and multiplied in sterile laboratory conditions. These cells are then transformed into UV-sensitive printer ink for use in their revolutionary machine. The cells can be molded and printed into the shape of a carrot or any other preferred form with the 3D printer.

The Future of Lab-Grown Produce

While carrots served as their initial proof of concept, Al Mansoori shared their vision of extending their technology to rare and climate-specific fruits and vegetables. The nutritional value of their 3D-printed carrot matches that of conventionally grown carrots, as they meticulously replicate the soil's environment in their lab.

Tackling Global Food Insecurity

In a world where 735 million people currently face hunger, and 122 million more have been pushed into hunger due to factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and global conflicts, addressing food insecurity is paramount. Al Mansoori emphasized that 3D-printed food could be a cost-effective solution. Since production doesn't rely on vast amounts of land or maintenance costs, 3D-printed carrots can be produced at a lower cost. For instance, they can sell 3kg of 3D-printed carrots for 10 riyals, making them an affordable alternative.

A Vision for Widespread Adoption

Al Mansoori and Annan aspire to see 3D food printers utilized everywhere, from restaurants to supermarkets and even hospitals. Their goal is simple yet profound: to make food accessible to people all over the world.

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