There's nothing quite like a physical book. There's the smell of the pages, the feel of the cover, the literal weight of the bound pages, which brings a tangible heft to the knowledge they contain. But purchasing a book bound in leather, specifically, poses a dilemma to bibliophiles who have ethical quandaries about supporting such a tome.
One lucky bidder recently got around that obstacle by purchasing the first book bound with lab-grown jellyfish collagen. For a cool $12,790, someone on eBay scooped up this environmentally sustainable evolution of leather meets literature. Fittingly, the cover binds Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro, a chronicle of cellular agriculture where animal products like meat and leather are lab-grown.
Clean Meat's cover was made by Geltor, a company better known for engineering collagen for the cosmetics industry, writes Jonathan Kauffman for the San Francisco Chronicle. With this book, it now joins competitors Modern Meadow and VitroLabs in the field of producing biofabricated leathers.
Geltor created the cultured leather by engineering yeast cells to produce different types of collagen during fermentation. That was then shaped into “floppy, pallid sheets,” writes Kauffman, before being tanned and finished into a cultured leather. According to Kristin Hugo at Newsweek, the team settled on using collagen from jellyfish for the cover because they found it had a malleability to it that made it "flexible but firm," giving the book an especially realistic feel.
The case for using bioleather instead of traditional animal hides isn’t just one of ethics or the environment. As Shapiro points out to Kauffman, it can also boil down to a matter of practicality. That's because lab-grown leather can take on whatever form the consumer wants. “Cows don’t come in the shapes of wallets and car seats,” Shapiro says.
The proceeds from the auction, which closed January 22, are earmarked for Good Food Institute, a nonprofit promoting plant-based and cellular agriculture alternatives to industrial animal agriculture.