We could use it in everything from food to cosmetics.
Gelatin is one versatile protein. It puts the "gel" in Jell-O and it's an essential ingredient in many other foods, cosmetics, and medications. The downside: We can't produce gelatin without harming animals and the environment, since it historically comes from animal skin, bones, and tissue.
But a new startup could change that. It's found a way to create the protein collagen — the building block of gelatin — in the lab without the use of any animal products.
In 2012, the founders of California-based startup Geltor decided they wanted to figure out a way to produce collagen without relying on the animal products traditionally used in the manufacturing process.
They landed on fermentation, the process of using microorganisms to break down a substance. Using fermentation, they were able to convert the common elements carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen into collagen. Not something like collagen, but collagen itself, which anyone can then use to produce gelatin.
"It's nature-identical," Geltor co-founder Alex Lorestani told CNBC. "It's just a pure protein, identical to the one you would find wherever. We just make it a different way."
According to Rosie Wardle, the program director of a foundation that advises Geltor investor Jeremy Coller, lab-grown collagen is a major improvement over the traditional kind.
"The current system of protein production is a broken system," she told CNBC. "It's resource-intensive and having a massive detrimental impact on the environment. Business as usual isn't really an option for the protein-production sector going forward."
Geltor already provides its lab-grown collagen to cosmetics and skincare companies, but if the product passes Food and Drug Administration vetting, you could find yourself snacking on vegan, eco-friendly Jell-O, jams, or juices in the not-so-distant future.
READ MORE: Lab-Grown Gelatin Is the Fake Food of the Future, One Start-up Believes [CNBC]
More on clean food: We're About to Get Many More Meat Alternatives