Lab-grown meat
Memphis Meats is on of several companies developing ways to grow meat in a laboratory Reuters

Meat grown from animal cells in a laboratory could be on our dinner plates before the end of the decade, as one pioneering startup has just received a $17m (£13m) investment from Bill Gates and Richard Branson, plus backers of Tesla and SpaceX.

San Francisco-based Memphis Meats is developing a way to produce real meat from animal cells, but without the need to feed, breed and slaughter actual animals. It hopes this will dramatically reduce greenhouse gases, as well as the need for land and water to raise livestock.

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at DFJ Venture Capital, which led the investment round, said: "Rather than a meat substitute, they will sell real meat, without harming any animals. No methane production, inefficient feedstock conversion, wasted land, fertilisers, antibiotics, or excess water use.

"The product goal is to do this at a much lower cost than current animal harvesting and with better taste, nutritional value, and environmental benefit. They produce duck, chicken and beef today, and should be able to produce all meats by the same methods."

In what Jurvetson describes as "Moo's Law", in recognition of the computer industry's Moore's Law, he and Memphis Meats expect to see a tenfold efficiency improvement in meat production compared to current farming methods.

The company is a part of what is known as the 'clean meat' industry. Meat is grown in tanks by feeding oxygen, sugar and nutrients to real, living animal cells. This process, Memphis Meats claims, uses around 1% of the land and 10% of the water needed for conventional animal agriculture.

Although yet to commercialise its meat, the company has produced examples of lab-grown beef, chicken and duck. For now the production costs are far higher than that of meat processed from livestock, but Memphis Meats hopes the investment will help to develop more cost-effective techniques.

Another backer in the $17m funding round is Cargill, one of the world's largest agriculture companies. To date, Memphis Meats has attracted $22m of investment.

A related industry, heading in a different direction but to the same goal, includes companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, who produce plant-based products developed to replicate the taste and texture of meat.