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Secrets and pies: the battle to get lab-grown meat on the menu | Stem cells

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Not a week goes by without Elliot Swartz receiving at least one request from researchers asking him where they can find cell lines (a cell culture developed from a single cell) for use in cellular agriculture – an essential tool for creating lab-grown meat. “One of the most important things that cell lines offer is that they enable researchers to just get started in this new field,” says Swartz, who works in New York as a senior scientist at the Good Food Institute (GFI) – a nonprofit focused on advancing cellular agriculture and bringing its products to our shelves and stomachs as quickly as possible. Helping researchers is a core part of his role. In the case of cell lines, however, there’s very little he can do.

Swartz’s response to the researchers is unfortunately always the same: at the moment, publicly available cell lines relevant for cellular agriculture don’t really exist. That doesn’t mean that they’re nowhere to be found. Upside Foods (previously Memphis Meats) has submitted several patents to protect cell lines it has developed, and companies such as Cell Farm Food Tech have built a business around selling cell lines for profit. Keeping discoveries behind closed doors is a pattern of behaviour found in private companies across the industry, which many believe is slowing down innovation.

Cellular agriculture is the use of animal cells or microbes to grow animal products, such as meat or milk, in bioreactors. The field gained prominence after Dutch scientist Mark Post unveiled the first cultured meat burger in 2013. Since then, cultured meats have been touted as a sustainable alternative to livestock farming, which is the leading cause of habitat destruction. Global demand for burgers and bacon is to increase over the coming decades, meaning more ecosystems will be bulldozed to accommodate the expanding market. This, in turn, will increase the risk of future pandemics, as biodiversity loss is linked to the emergence of new diseases. Moreover, efforts to cut carbon emissions will also fall short of Paris targets if we don’t reduce our meat consumption, according to a special report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2019.

Cellular agriculture gained prominence in 2013 when Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, above, unveiled the first cultured meat burger.
Cellular agriculture gained prominence in 2013 when Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, above, unveiled the first cultured meat burger. Photograph: Cultured Beef Website/EPA

There is some progress. In Singapore last year, Eat Just became the first cultured meat company to gain regulatory approval to sell its product. But many technological, social, and economic hurdles remain before our supermarkets are filled with a variety of cultured cutlets. To surpass these hurdles, organisations including the GFI are pushing for a more public exchange of data, tools and ideas. As it stands, most research in the field is done by private companies which seem keen to protect their intellectual property.

Swartz says the lack of publicly available cell lines “is a gatekeeper in getting people into the field, even though there’s a lot of interest,” adding that this isn’t really an issue in other industries. Scientists looking for stem cells for research or clinical purposes can go to the government-funded UK Stem Cell Bank, and across the Atlantic, the nonprofit American Type Culture Collection hosts a reserve of cell lines that are mainly open access. Although repositories like this do include animal cells, that doesn’t mean they’re suitable for generating meat.

What makes cell lines themselves so useful is that they are immortal and can multiply indefinitely, so they can be used as a standard model across the industry. “We’re not going to understand if our findings are true if different groups are using different cells with different features,” Swartz continues. “So cell lines are the first piece of the puzzle for getting cultivated meat to become an actual field of study.” The GFI is filling the cell-line-shaped hole in cellular agriculture by funding the creation of lines that will be openly accessible, and making a repository to store them in. Kerafast – a Boston-based bioresearch company – will maintain this repository. Researchers not involved with the GFI are welcome to deposit cell lines too, as are private companies; anyone looking to use the cells must pay a small fee to cover the costs of storing and maintaining them. So far, only one academic group has deposited a cell line. “The lines being worked on in academic groups are still in development, which is why we haven’t got that many yet,” Swartz says.


The reluctance of private companies to share their cell lines may in part be because of how they are financed – a GFI report found that of the $366m invested in cultured meat in 2020, only around $12m came from public sources. Controlling the vast majority of the capital in the industry means that the private sector can comfortably dictate the pace and direction of innovation, which the Breakthrough Institute’s food and agriculture analyst Saloni Shah sees as an issue. “With the government and public sector funding research you can set criteria and standards, and make sure the right kinds of technologies get funded so that the development of the sector accelerates and improves,” says Shah.

The complaint that governments need to start investing in more sustainable food options is echoed by Isha Datar, the executive director of New Harvest – another nonprofit focused on advancing cellular agriculture. She thinks one of the reasons the field lacks government funding is that it is a mix of tissue engineering, which is medically oriented, and food science. “Cellular agriculture is kind of homeless and so it falls in between the cracks of the existing pillars of funding and how we think about science being separated,” she says. Swartz also agrees that more public funding is needed, but he thinks it will only come after the technology has been scaled up. “‘Does this industry scale?’ is going to be the key to opening the floodgate for governments funding this technology,” he says. “Open source research is going to be really important for bringing new ideas on how to scale this technology or lower costs.”

Eat Just’s ‘no kill’ chicken
In December, Eat Just’s ‘no kill’ chicken became available at a Singapore restaurant. It is the first lab-grown meat granted regulatory approval. Photograph: Eat Just/AFP/Getty Images

Swartz also complains that secrecy is holding up the industry-wide adoption of other cheaper, more efficient materials. For example, all of the nutrients needed for animal cells to grow into chunks of meat are contained in the cell culture medium, but the industry standard foetal bovine serum is expensive, and must be extracted from the foetus of a slaughtered cow. Many startups claim to have developed alternatives, but they remain trade secrets. “Companies tend not to patent these things, because by patenting a cell culture medium you have to include everything that’s in there, which is open sourcing what the ingredients are,” says Swartz.

Even if the cell line problem were solved, there would still be technological hurdles holding the field back from large-scale commercialisation. Using computer modelling to address these hurdles and accelerate the intensification of cultured meat production is a central goal of the Cultivated Meat Modeling Consortium (CMMC).

Modelling is a useful tool that allows researchers to simulate experiments before entering a laboratory. This helps to save on time and resources. In order to run more complicated simulations, however, modellers first need data from simpler experiments that detail the fundamental biological processes behind cultured meat production – to understand the sum of the whole, we must first analyse the parts. “We’re experiencing quite some difficulty in getting the information we need to actually build models,” says Jaro Camphuijsen, a researcher associated with the CMMC. Private companies they work with have shown resistance to sharing data and running certain experiments. “We have been talking to a cultivated meat company quite a lot, and we often ask: ‘What happens if you do this experiment?’ The answer is usually: ‘We don’t know,’ and ‘We aren’t going to do that because the cells will die,’” Camphuijsen explains. But failed experiments, he says, can provide useful data points that often reveal more than successful tests. “Experiments that go wrong actually provide lots and lots of information if you want to find out how these tiny systems of cells are behaving.”

cellular meat
Companies say they can grow cellular meat in a lab but doubts remain about whether production can be scaled to create an affordable product. Photograph: Svetlana-Cherruty/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When asked to respond to accusations that industry secrets were slowing down innovation in the field, Uma Valeti, the CEO of Upside Foods, wrote in an email that the firm “kickstarted the cultured meat movement when we were founded in 2015. Without that, the industry wouldn’t be in the place it is today, where there are hundreds of companies, NGOs, academic groups and government institutions focusing on cultured meat, across every continent but Antartica.” She adds that Upside is “actively supportive of more open access research on cultured meat,” and it has “actively supported the development of public research institutions like the Cultured Meat Consortium”.

Responding to the same accusations, Robert E Jones, head of public affairs at Mosa Meat, wrote: “Few companies have done more than Mosa Meat to contribute to the open advancement of cellular agriculture.” He adds that Mosa “hoped the 2013 burger would trigger a moonshot level of public investment in research,” and that “there is something to be said for an innovation ecosystem that includes both private capital and public investments for a challenge as big as reforming the food system.”

The idea that governments need to start investing in more sustainable food options is echoed by Datar. She has concerns about a field that lacks an academic basis and publicly accessible information. “It means cellular agriculture is going to have to be more transparent than other industries,” says Datar. “I think we need a lot more data sharing and a lot more transparency if we are to create a better food system.” Will private companies heed this call for more transparency and build on their claims that they are supportive of more open access research, or will they follow the approach in other sectors where financial gain has been prioritised over societal benefits? Campaigners hope the answer is one that puts the planet before profit margins.

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Fivetran nears five times its unicorn valuation as it plans further growth

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The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.

Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.

This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.

The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.

In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.

‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’
– MARTIN CASADO, A16Z

For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.

“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”

Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.

Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.

In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.

“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.

The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.

Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.

“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.

“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”

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Ring Video Doorbell 4 review: pre-roll is a battery bell gamechanger | Amazon

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The latest iteration of Amazon’s battery-powered Ring doorbell adds a new feature to capture the early details of events most competitors would miss without needing to be plugged in.

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and can be installed in any home with wifi. It tops Ring’s battery-powered range, which starts at £89.

The look and basic function of the Doorbell 4 is very similar to Ring’s older models. It has a camera with night vision, motion sensors and a large doorbell button.

When someone pushes the button Ring’s signature chime plays and an alert is sent to your phone. You can view a live feed and speak through the doorbell using the app from anywhere with internet. If you don’t answer, the new “quick replies” feature is like an answering machine for your door, recording caller’s messages. And it works as a motion-activated security camera too.

Four seconds of pre-roll

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
A ring of blue LEDs lights up when the doorbell is pressed showing that it is active and something is happening, such as you answering the door through the camera. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Most battery-powered doorbells sleep until motion is detected to save power, which means they typically only capture the second half of an event as it takes time for the camera to wake up and start recording.

Ring’s “pre-roll” system fills in the gap before the motion sensor is tripped. It takes a clip from a looping four-second lower-resolution colour recording that can be operated all the time without draining the battery too much.

It is a gamechanger for battery doorbells, giving you a much better idea of what has happened before the main camera fires up.

Video, motion and replay

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The camera has a wide 160-degree horizontal field of view, but only a 84-degree vertical field of view, which means you can’t see packages left on your doorstep. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The main 1080p HD video is clear and sharp enough to discern faces and name tags, and recorded HDR (high dynamic range) to better handle the sun shining straight at your door. The infrared night vision is bright and clear, too.

You can adjust the motion sensitivity and define areas you want monitored so that you only get notifications when something happens in the chosen zone, which is particularly useful for avoiding notification overload if your doorbell faces the street.

Ring Protect

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
All the settings, power modes and alerts are accessed through the app, which has an easy-to-use video recording timeline if you pay for the Ring Protect cloud storage. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

While standard motion and doorbell notifications, live view and pre-roll are free, you need to subscribe to Ring Protect to get the most out of the doorbell. A free 30-day trial is included so you can see what it does, and plans start at £2.50 a month, but it is essentially cloud recording for your videos as they are not stored locally.

You get up to 30-day event history, messages recorded by visitors from the quick replies feature and still snapshots taken every 14 minutes to fill in the gaps between events.

Ring Protect also enables smart motion alerts, to differentiate between people and other things such as cars, and rich notifications, which show an image of the motion or person within the alert on your phone.

Set up and battery life

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The quick-release battery can be swapped out in seconds for charging without having to remove the doorbell from the door. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Setting up the doorbell is very easy. It comes with screws and wall plugs, plus a bracket for angling the camera towards your door if needed and cables for attaching it to an existing doorbell wire and chime if you have one.

The doorbell can be held in place by sticky strips if you can’t damage the mounting surface, such as if you’re renting. I used a set of Command-brand foam strips, but Ring sells a £17 “no-drill mount” that achieves something similar.

Once it is mounted you just slot the battery in the bottom, open up the Ring app on your smartphone and scan the QR code on the side of the bell. The app will run through the rest of the setup in about five minutes.

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
Depending on how close your wifi router is to the door you may need a wifi extender or the £49 Chime Pro (pictured), which as well as acting as a ringer also creates a wifi network specifically for Ring devices. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

If you don’t have a traditional chime you can buy the wireless £29 Ring Chime or use any existing Amazon Alexa devices in your home to ring instead.

Battery life varies depending on how many features such as snapshot and pre-roll you have on and the number of motion events and live views. With everything active and capturing roughly 45 events a day, the battery lasts about a month. I would buy a second £20 battery as it takes at least five hours to fully charge the battery via microUSB.

Privacy

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
Ring has had a few privacy concerns over the years, particularly in the US with regard its activities with law enforcement. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can block the recording of certain parts of the camera’s view such as your neighbour’s drive using privacy zones. Ring has recently added options to limit how long recorded videos are stored on a camera-by-camera basis, strengthened account security with two-factor authentication and, in addition to standard encryption, has enabled the activation of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for videos.

E2EE offers the strongest protection and means only the mobile devices you select can decrypt and watch captured videos. No one else can see the video, not even Ring. But with E2EE turned on some more advanced features such as pre-roll, snapshots, the event timeline, rich notifications and Alexa integration for watching a live feed from an Echo Show cannot be used.

Sustainability

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The faceplate and battery can be easily swapped if damaged, while various screws, brackets, parts and add-ons are available direct from Ring.

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is generally repairable and a range of spare parts, including the rechargeable battery, are available at reasonable cost. Most parts are also interchangeable with older models. The company will support its devices with software updates for least four years from the point it stops selling the device on its site, and continues to support all of the devices it has sold so far.

Ring offers trade-in and recycling schemes through Amazon for its devices, but it did not comment on the use of recycled materials in the Doorbell 4. Ring falls under Amazon’s climate and sustainability pledges.

Observations

Ring Video Doorbell 4 review
The removable faceplate, which is available in several colours to best suit your door, is held in place with a small security screw in the bottom of the battery. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The response time to live view requests through the app is shorter than previous Ring models, but it can still take a few seconds to answer the door, so Ring has a separate stripped-down Rapid Ring app that is faster to load, which can be used for answering rings alongside the main Ring app.

  • Alexa smart displays can show a live feed on demand or automatically when the doorbell rings.

Price

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and Ring Protect costs from £2.50 a month.

For comparison, the Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen) costs £89, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 costs £219, the Google Nest Doorbell costs £179.99 and the Arlo Video Doorbell Wire-Free costs £179.

Verdict

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is yet another great battery-powered smart doorbell from Amazon.

It intentionally doesn’t look any different from previous versions, so that parts are interchangeable and the older models don’t look dated. But it wakes up faster, the colour pre-roll captures much more of each event and its night vision is really good.

It can be installed almost anywhere but it needs good wifi so you might need a booster. You’ll probably need the extra £29 Chime too, which brings the real cost to £189 as a bundle, plus the £2.50 a month subscription to really make the most out of it as it doesn’t have local video storage.

Note the Ring Android app has an extremely annoying hard-coded pattern of four strong and long vibrations for every motion alert. It cannot be changed, which forced me to disable motion alerts entirely and lost the Doorbell 4 a star. Ring said it is working to fix the problem by the end of the year. This issue does not exist for the Ring iPhone app, however.

Pros: easy to install, clear video, great colour pre-roll, lots of accessories, solid iPhone app, faster, quick replies, snapshots, Alexa device integration, great as a regular doorbell replacement, end-to-end encryption available.

Cons: no local storage means you need Protect subscription for event review, no constant video recording, fairly wide for some door frames, battery needs charging once a month, Chime likely needed.

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-Werror pain persists as Linus Torvalds issues Linux 5.15rc2 • The Register

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Linus Torvalds has revealed that winding back the decision to default to -Werror – and therefore make all warnings into errors – has made for another messy week of work on the Linux kernel.

“So I’ve spent a fair amount of this week trying to sort out all the odd warnings, and I want to particularly thank Guenter Roeck for his work on tracking where the build failures due to -Werror come from,” Torvalds wrote in his weekly missive about the state of kernel development.

“Is it done?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But on the whole I’m feeling fairly good about this all, even if it has meant that I’ve been looking at some really odd and grotty code. Who knew I’d still worry about some odd EISA driver on alpha, after all these years? A slight change of pace ;)”

Torvalds expressed his annoyance that his efforts have seen him enter “fix one odd corner case, three others rear their ugly heads” territory.

But he’s willing to wear the pain. “I remain convinced that it’s all for a good cause, and that we really do want to have a clean build even for the crazy odd cases,” he wrote.

And if he must handle this sort of thing in any week of the kernel production cycle, it might as well be the week of rc2.

“I hope this release will turn more normal soon – but the rc2 week tends to be fairly quiet for me, so the fact that I then ended up looking at reports of odd warnings-turned-errors this week wasn’t too bad,” he wrote.

Late last week, Torvalds also took some time to share what he described as “the true 30th anniversary date” of Linux.

On September 17th he wrote “a random note to let people know that today is actually one of the core 30-year anniversary dates: 0.01 was uploaded Sept 17, 1991.

“Now, that 0.01 release was never publicly announced, and I only emailed a handful of people in private about the upload (and I don’t have old emails from those days), so there’s no real record of that,” he wrote. “The only record of the date is in the Linux-0.01 tar-file itself, I suspect.

“Just thought I’d mention it, since while unannounced, in many ways this is the true 30th anniversary date of the actual code.”

So The Register though it worthy of mention, too. ®

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