Hypothetical question time. If you are a vegetarian, can you eat 3D printed meat? If you are a vegan, can you wear a jacket that is made of 3D printed leather?
These are not theoretical questions; technology and techniques for 3D printing in organic material are very real, and moving along at a brisk pace. University of Pennsylvania scientists have developed a method to use 3D printing to create working blood vessels by printing sugar-based casts for live cells to form around (see video below). Earlier this month, researchers at University of California, San Diego were able to significantly speed up the process with a new technique. The new method uses stereolithography: a photo-sensitive solution of biopolymers and cells is targeted with light beams to build solid structures, such as blood vessels or potentially organs.
One private sector company that is generating buzz in the investment community is Organovo. The company makes the NovaGen MMX Bioprinter, which takes cells and shapes them into 3D tissue structures. Keeping things in the family, Andras Forgas, son of Organovo founder Gabor Forgas, has also started his own spin-off company, Modern Meadow. The new venture is focusing on developing organic material for food and clothing. Backed the Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs, the new startup is first targeting wearable printed leather, then plans to move into food production. Modern Meadow's faux-leather technique involves isolating and reproducing mass amounts of cells to create a raw material for a process that would resemble weaving.
Don't look for a leather goods or meat section here are Shapeways just yet, but who knows, maybe we'll be able to cater to the motorcycle and BBQ crowd at some point.