Man’s mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. Something similar happened to Lauri Reuter, a PhD researcher at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland while growing berry cells from berry plant to be further used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic manufacturing. The idea of consuming these berries with its nutritive values intact in cell form and also producing other edible fruit cells caught Lauri Reuters attention and the work towards a prototype for a home bioreactor began. Reuter has won he confidence and credibility of his fellow scientists as this invention will open up new ways for home cultivation not only the regular fruits but also the once that are seasonal and challenging for farmers to grow. A study suggests that humans only consume around 20 fruits and vegetables and thus leaving less and less scope for other exotic and highly nutritive fruits to be grown and consumed. Lauri Reuter and colleagues are calling it a ‘home bioreactor’ which will pretty function as your daily coffee machine.
Cell and molecular biology has played a major role in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry. Cells from common fruits like raspberry, grape and kiwi are grown separately to be used in vaccines, medicines and beauty product. This industry is also exploring cultivation of unusual cells like Pacific Yew and cloudberry. Reuter’s lab also works in production of plant cell lines for commercial purposes. The work towards home bioreactor began when VTT was working on lingonberry, strawberry and cloudberry cell cultures. Reuter wondered how this fruity culture tasted like and wondered if it was possible to grow fruit cultures at home in a compact bioreactor and eaten in the cell form itself. The invention of home bioreactor marks will bridge the gap between scientists and common man as cultivating plant and fruit cells will not be restricted to only laboratory. This fruit culture has been called ‘cell jam’ will provide health and cost benefits. The main idea behind this invention is to easily produce cells that appear like jam and jellies which has flavor, bright color, soft texture and that can be easily consumed directly or with yogurts and smoothies. A prototype for this design called ‘CellPod’ was released in 2016. It gathered sudden attention because of its compact design, production capacity and easy use. The culture can be added to this pod in form of a capsule which burst and starts cultivating cells. Somewhat like a coffee machine. After its first release, the home bioreactor has undergone many improvisation sin terms of flavor, texture and form of the cell jam. The designer for this product Niko Räty wanted to keep its design accessible and familiar so he designed a lamp like looking pod that can easily fit in any kitchen. Home bioreactor goes beyond these easy features. It gives us the ease of producing something that is out of season, at home and is also highly nutritious. In true sense it is getting cell agriculture into our kitchens.
Reuter vision behind this idea is to introduce unconventional fruits and vegetables in our day to day diet and break the stereotype of traditional staple foods. Planet earth hosts almost 4 lacs species of plants out of which, we consume only 3000. Climate change is adversely affecting the cultivation and harvesting of these crops especially the staple. To cope up with changing environmental conditions we need scientific transformation that will make our lives easier.
Many scientists like engineers like Marianne Ellis of University of Bath agree that home bioreactor is a very good idea in terms of its size. He works on the bioreactor design and thinks that it is a good thing that VTT team is working on a device with a small scale as achieving this on industrial level will be challenging. Ellis is also worried about functioning of this device from the consumer point of view. Challenges like creating cultures, maintaining sterility in the bioreactor and maintaining low supply cost. Reuter and team is still working on the home bioreactor project waiting for a buyer that would introduce it in the commercial market. With passing time, Reuter is finding more scope for improvisation in cell jams produced. This invention is one of the best examples of how scientific transformations can change simple things to beneficial.