Published December 20, 2021 | Updated December 19, 2023 | Isha Datar,
Have you heard of the Gartner hype cycle? It’s a conceptual graph used to understand the five phases of an emerging technology’s life cycle.
There are a lot of criticisms of this concept, all very justified…but I do like revisiting this graph when I think about cell ag because I’m fascinated by how we can use patterns and history to forecast the future.
It’s thrilling to do while the journey is underway.
Where are we?
If I were to place cellular agriculture on this graph today, I’d place it somewhere around the peak of inflated expectations. I can’t decide if it’s just to the left or right of the peak…that changes day by day depending on the news, my mood, and the weather. But I do think our field has been riding high on the vision and lofty promises of cellular agriculture since the first companies were founded seven years ago.
That’s not a bad thing. That energy and excitement has led the field to swell to over $2.5B in investment, 100+ cell ag companies, and thousands of cell ag employees around the globe (1). That energy has helped establish cell ag as something that is here, happening, and can change our world.
The days when I think we’re on the ascending slope of the peak of inflated expectations are when we’re reaching new audiences through things like TED. When I get emails from high schoolers asking what they can do now to get a job in this field and be a part of this movement.
The days when I think we’re on the descending slope are when I read critiques that suggest our work is not worthy of exploration at all. I can say with confidence that this article in The Counter was the first real, public piece that challenged cell ag to the core. It absolutely shook our community, and stories like it will only continue—pushing us downward into the trough of disillusionment where interest and investment wanes, and where failures, which are part of the scientific process, get blown out of proportion.
What gives me incredible hope is knowing that descending into a trough of disillusionment *is progress.* It’s an inevitable, perhaps even helpful part of the cell ag story that gets us to where we want to go: the plateau of productivity where material scientific progress is measurably changing our world.
So what now?
What do we do when we’re standing on the precipice overlooking this trough?
I come from a boom and bust oil town with hardcore winters, so cyclical ups and downs have shaped my genome (2). I can say quite confidently that what you do in a boom is build the lasting infrastructure that will carry you through the inevitable bust.
This is exactly the mindset that guides our work at New Harvest.
While our field celebrates growth and expansion and investment, we choose to work on the “boring stuff” that will ensure longevity and ongoing progress. Data to back up claims. Research to bolster policy and advocacy work. Scientists who are empowered and shovel-ready to receive large government grants.
Back in 2015, people would ask me why New Harvest didn’t work more with startups when there was clearly so much opportunity in starting companies. Why were we choosing to fund academic work?
It was because I knew that academic infrastructure was going to be key to long term success. Startups *had* support. Academia didn’t. After six years of funding academic research, New Harvest’s work paid off. We now have a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture.
Preparing for winter
The phrase “AI winter” is used to describe the periodic troughs of disillusionment in artificial intelligence research when funding and interest drop.
We’re going to have these troughs in cellular agriculture too. I stay awake at night thinking about how to make the unavoidable troughs of disillusionment shorter and shallower.
Heading into 2022, I’m thinking about how New Harvest can prepare for a cell ag winter. Remodeling and expanding our grant program so we can support researchers coming at cultured meat from every angle, training the next generation of talent and expertise to carry the touch for decades to come, investing in our ecosystem so it is strong and resilient.
I need your help.
New Harvest set the ambitious goal of raising $2.5 million this year. Any less and we won’t be able to hit the ground running come January.
We’re still $382,601.20 away from our goal.
I believe that science can carry cell ag through booms AND busts. If you do too, then please donate today. Together, wecan build a world where meat, milk, and eggs come from cells instead of animals.