Cellular agriculture is an emerging and fascinating means for feeding the world’s population, using modern tech to farm meat from cells, rather than animals.
And in Australia, Dr Bianca Le is at the forefront of the movement, having recently founded Cellular Agriculture Australia, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and accelerating R&D in the industry. The organisation is also driving public awareness of this growing field (check out this explainer on their website).
They are also clear on why the work is so important: the planet has finite resources but more people requiring food and particularly protein. Humanity is also facing three major challenges in climate change, food scarcity and zoonotic diseases — challenges that will only be further exacerbated with rising meat consumption.
Growing from meat from cells, as well as other animal products like eggs, milk and leather, presents an opportunity to use less land, water and energy compared with traditional agriculture methods. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to move away environmentally-destructive intensive factory farming.
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Le is communicating just how STEM can be used to tackle some of the world’s greatest problems, and why including women is essential to meeting these challenges: climate change, food insecurity, human diseases, animal suffering, gender inequality and more.
Indeed, essential to Le’s work is that when she’s not doing the science, she’s talking about it. She’s a regular spokesperson and advocate in her field, in the media, at international conference, and while publishing articles on everything from diversity in STEM to ecology, biomedice, agtech and more.
When it comes to a grow and emerging area like cellular ag, communicating the message and often starting the conversations, is absolutely essential.
As a cell biologist, Le’s also just recently completed a PhD at Monash University on understanding how premature birth can lead to long-term cardiovascular disease, the greatest killer in the world.
She’s the latest to answer our STEM Gamechanger Q&A.
In one sentence, how do you describe what you do?
I am a cell biologist who founded an organisation to build a new research field – cellular agriculture – in Australia.
Is the career you always imagined, how did you get here?
I initially wanted a career as a researcher and lecturer in academia. Throughout my PhD, I was fortunate enough to gain work experience in non-academic organisations, including a volunteer position as a Treasurer for a community organisation, a science policy internship at the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), and a science writing position at a scicomm agency called Scientell.
These unique experiences opened my eyes to the world outside of academia and gave me the soft skills and networks to essentially create my own dream job. I never would have considered establishing a nonprofit organisation until I’d met more and more people like me who had successfully done so.
What drives your passion for pursuing this work with cells?
It’s so hard to avoid hearing about all the major problems our world is currently facing. Knowing that I am privileged enough to utilise my resources (like career capital and time) to make a meaningful impact inspires me to try and leave the world better than I left it.
What has been pivotal in supporting your STEM career?
My 6 month Science Policy internship at the Academy of Technology and Engineering completely changed my understanding of the world of STEM outside the bubble of my own research field.
Science policy lies within the intersection between government, industry, education and academia. My time at ATSE gave me a high level understanding of how different sectors and industries interact. I also met many of my mentors, role models and current friends during that time!
What more needs to or can be done to support more women in STEM?
Two things: quotas in high ranking leadership positions and equal maternity/paternity leave.
Is there any key tips you can share for other women in STEM?
Build your inner circle of supporters. Find like minded people who will mentor and sponsor you and be sure to pay that generosity forward.