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High steaks: Lab-grown meat necessary for future protein demands, expert says

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You might not normally associate the terms ‘humane’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ with meat products, but a growing field of research could change that.

Cultured meat, or lab-grown meat, begins with the extraction of a small selection of cells from a live animal. Those cells are taken to a lab where they divide, accumulating into a mass that can be harvested and slapped on a burger bun.

The practice doesn’t require mass slaughter of animals, or the hefty carbon footprint associated with livestock rearing. 

So why isn’t the wonder meat available at the supermarket? Bill Aimutis, the director of North Carolina State University’s food innovation lab, will explore that question Thursday during a free lecture at the University of Alberta.

Bill Aimutis is the director of the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab. (Sam Martin/CBC)

There are several hurdles to overcome before cultured meat can be mass produced, including challenges with technology and cost, Aimutis said.

Producing the first lab-grown burger in 2013 cost a whopping $330,000 — not exactly a steal of a deal for the everyday consumer.

Creating the protein product is costly partially because it requires the use of fetal bovine serum, which helps the animal cells reproduce, Aimutis said.

“That expense almost is prohibitive to go to a mass production situation,” he said.

“We don’t know yet what the costs will be because, frankly, we haven’t commercially produced it yet.”

The serum is extracted from fetal calves in a process Aimutis described as “quite inhumane,” meaning the meat can’t be labelled ‘cruelty free’ unless an alternative serum is found.

Protein shortage

Despite the challenges, Aimutis said it’s crucial the research continues.

“If we look at today, the amount of protein that we all eat across the world, we are barely producing enough protein to meet those demands,” he said.

“But as the population grows, we’re going to have to increase our protein production some place between 40 and 70 per cent to meet the demand of the consumers.”

The first lab-grown hamburger was built from cattle stem cells and taste-tested in 2013. (CBC)

Scientists can create lab-grown meat to help farmers meet that demand.

“People that are in favour of cultured meat from a humane perspective or from an environmental perspective have the great hope that cultured meat will replace all meat being grown by traditional livestock rearing methods today. I don’t believe that we can do that,” Aimutis said.

“We’ll still continue to need to grow livestock. This will be another way of supplementing the protein that we need.”

But will people eat it?

Consumer preference studies have determined people would try cultured meat if it had the same look, taste, smell, and price of regular meat, Aimutis said. He noted cultured meat theoretically tastes like the animal it originates from, though it all looks like ground beef.

While people might be willing to try it, Aimutus said it could be a while before they get the chance.

“Realistically we won’t see mass production of this type of cultured meat probably until about the year 2040,” he said.

Aimutis will host a public lecture on cellular meat technology at the U of A’s Lister Centre Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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