Tour the San Francisco lab that's growing meat in a petri dish

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Tour the San Francisco lab that's growing meat in a petri dish

  • IndieBio in the heart of downtown San Francisco is developing food products to feed a growing population in an ethical, sustainable way.
  • One of the companies that got started here, Memphis Meats, just raised $17 million from a group of billionaires, including Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

Meat that doesn't require the slaughter of animals. Fashion that provides an eco-friendly alternative to leather. Dairy products that are lactose-free and brewed in a lab.

Most San Franciscans aren't aware there's a lab in the heart of the financial district where scientists and entrepreneurs are working on all these things and more. The lab, which is run by a bio-technology accelerator program called IndieBio, has funded 68 early-stage start-ups.

One of its biggest successes, Memphis Meats, raised $17 million this past month for its "clean" bioreactor-brewed meat from a slew of high-profile investors, including billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson, Elon Musk's brother Kimball and General Electric CEO Jack Welch.

IndieBio was Memphis Meat's first investor.

CNBC's Christina Farr gets a tour of IndieBio's lab
Andrew Evers, CNBC
CNBC's Christina Farr gets a tour of IndieBio's lab

"How we think of it is that first we domesticated cows and now we're domesticating their cells," IndieBio program director Ryan Bethencourt said in an interview with CNBC. Memphis Meats' process involves harvesting meat cells from live animals and growing them in a lab for more than a month.

Bethencourt said he's perennially on the hunt to fund "alternatives from the use of animals, food, fashion consumer goods." IndieBio provides $250,000 in funding to its portfolio companies, as well as desk-space and access to the lab.

Eating food brewed in a lab might seem like science fiction, but Bethencourt stresses that it's a process that humans have used for years with household products like tofu. But IndieBio's companies are designing fish, meat and other animal products to feel and taste no different to their farmed counterparts.

He takes exception to the idea that these products are "fake."

"Our focus is on making healthy nutritious food," he said.