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Biotech Science Technology

Lab-Grown Leather Could Be a Reality In 5 Years 165

Posted by timothy
from the looking-forward-to-leather-sheets dept.
fangmcgee writes "Lab-grown leather apparel could hit the runways in as little as five years—all without harming a hair on a single animal's head, according to Andras Forgacs, co-founder and CEO of Modern Meadow, a Missouri-based startup that's approaching meat-and-leather production from a tissue-bioengineering, rather than farming, point of view. Backed by Breakout Labs, the grant-awarding foundation headed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Modern Meadow seeks to combine regenerative medicine with three-dimensional printing to synthesize leather and ultimately meat."
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Lab-Grown Leather Could Be a Reality In 5 Years

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  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:42PM (#41451195)

    Of ethical bondage equipment.

    • Re:Now dawns the age (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jythie (914043) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:00PM (#41451455)
      Actually there are already a number of suppliers for vegan kinksters.

      For many it will not matter since it is all about imagery, thus the fact the leather comes from particular animals is 'important'. Others will probably be happy to have more options in alternatives.
      • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:16PM (#41451693) Homepage

        Actually there are already a number of suppliers for vegan kinksters.

        Wow, that's the fastest I've seen rule #34 apply to a thread in a while. :-P

        • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:28PM (#41451933) Homepage

          Which is suddenly making me wonder ... do vegan chicks swallow? Seems it would be an animal byproduct.

          OK, I'm a bad bad person, I know. ;-)

          • While I don't understand them at all, in my personal experience most vegetarian & vegan chicks swallow.

            Go forth young nerds and benefit from my words!

          • Actually, that is a good question. If one takes the view that the eating of any product which comes from an animal as wrong, then the logical conclusion would be no, they don't swallow.

            I guess it depends on how far one goes to stand by their beliefs.

            It was like when I made the comment about Rogue. Since she can't touch anyone without draining them of their life force, what would happen if the attempt would be made to artificially impregnate her? Would her body kill the sperm (more than a woman's body doe

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              They normally have no problem with that, since you are generally consenting. Animals cannot consent to be killed.

              I am not vegan nor vegetarian.

              • by gstoddart (321705)

                They normally have no problem with that, since you are generally consenting. Animals cannot consent to be killed.

                That's what I was thinking -- they can pretty much know there was no cruelty involved and you can give consent.

                Though, in a lot of ways, it's very similar to milking a cow in terms of method of extraction. ;-)

              • by ceoyoyo (59147)

                What if you milk a cow that is free to walk away? Or pick up eggs that are discarded by a chicken?

                • by HiThere (15173)

                  I can see you've never milked a cow or raised chickens. Though I suppose some modern breeds might just leave their eggs, it's not normal chicken behavior. Generally they secrete them in a nest that is intended to protect them. And will often come back to check on them. So they aren't consenting to your taking their eggs. If they think they can get away with it they will often even peck at you. (Lets not talk about how aggressive roosters can be.)

                  Cows are milked in stalls, because if you don't they WIL

                  • by ceoyoyo (59147)

                    Actually, I have. Chickens don't usually leave their eggs, but it does happen, as it does with many species, occasionally. It's also quite possible to milk a cow without a stall or any sort of restraint. It does help if you put food out so they don't wander away, but giving a blood donor a muffin isn't considered a breach of their consent.

                • I guess the chicken scenario is fine.
                  The problem is, most chickens are raised in farms deprived of any freedom. Vegans don't quite stand against eating eggs, but rather, against raising chickens in inhuman conditions.

          • by OhSoLaMeow (2536022) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:45PM (#41452239)
            do vegan chicks swallow?

            Only until they marry.

        • Hardly an innovation - people have been wearing fake leather and fake fur for a long time. (That's not even counting the kinksters wearing latex or vinyl because they like how it feels.)

          You've probably seen Vegan Black Metal Chef's rubber outfit that looks a lot like leather-based metal-head outfits. (And if you haven't, you really should.)

    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      My big question is....why? Why would you want this? Its not like we don't already have fake leather, and its not like people are gonna give up their burgers and meat lovers pizzas...hmmm..pizza.. so what for? The only upside i can think of is you can alter the color to make colors not of nature, but that's all we need, electric green and neon pink day glo leather outfits.../shudders/.
      • by Teun (17872)
        Present fake leathers are generally of insufficient quality, real leather is a by-product of the meat industry and there is little reason to not use it except the very toxic process to cure animal skin, there's a reason most of that's done in third world countries.
        For meat there are good reasons to replace it, as world population grows we have increasing problems to feed all, meat is a very popular but inefficient animal husbandry product, when we can get a similar product using industrial tech that's a w
        • Wrong, high quality leather is not a by product, animals used for high quality leather are raised and used especifically for that purpose. In cases like cows, meat is generally sold as very low quality meat, but plenty of other animals are discarted.

          There are also lots of artificial products that are better than leather too - meaning "keep you warmer, are rain-resistant, etc".

  • Not to mention the cosmetic industry.

    • by vlm (69642)

      How about a cosmetic skingraft industry to leatherize your skin? I can hear the tv commercials now "You could spend a decade suntanning to achieve the trendy new leatherskin(tm) look but now after a simple operation at your doctors office...". You could pick your leatherized skin color, maybe even fake alligator...

      Never underestimate the ability of young people to spend large amounts of money to do stupid things in the name of "rebellion". This could be the next "tattoo" or the next "piercing". We're ge

    • Or the film-industry...
      I for one welcome our now completely boneless overlords, without an ethical question whatsoever!

      Actually I bought the one used in the matrix! It is a big clunker of a pod of some kind, and in there there is a guy called Zjeeanoo Reevez making my meter spin the wrong way round (the good one for me that is) and ever now and then he grows a nice leather jacket for me! And sunglasses in the summer as well!
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Not to mention the cosmetic industry.

      And auto industry - Rich Corinthian Leather* could actually be grown in labs in Corinth!

      Tip o' the propeller beanie to Ricardo Montalban

      It'll also save the hides of thousands of Naugas annually!

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:46PM (#41451241)

    If you have a moral objection to real leather, buy fake.
    If you don't have any moral objection, buy real.
    Or, if you don't like leather, buy neither.

    Any one of these three options will be a LOT cheaper than anything grown in a lab. And I seriously doubt this will ever be able to scale.

    • But what if you have a moral objection to killing an animal for leather but prefer bio-engineered leather to any of the synthetic replacements and are willing to pay the premium for bio-engineered? Then this is perfect for you...

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        But what if you have a moral objection to killing an animal for leather but prefer bio-engineered leather to any of the synthetic replacements and are willing to pay the premium for bio-engineered? Then this is perfect for you...

        I'm betting anybody who is staying away from leather for ethical reasons is going to look at the idea of tank-grown leather and still be thinking "that still sounds nasty".

        Then again, maybe a whole bunch of vegans are just waiting for tank-grown leather and there's a market for it.

        • I have plenty of friends who love meat but only eat meat that was hunted, not farmed who would prefer grown leather.

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            I have plenty of friends who love meat but only eat meat that was hunted, not farmed who would prefer grown leather.

            For me it's the 'ick' factor -- a coat made of pink slime [wikipedia.org] is a mental hurdle I'm not so sure of. :-P

        • and there's a market for it.

          Sort of like glow-in-the-dark fish as nightlights or glow-in-the-dark tampons?
          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Sort of like glow-in-the-dark fish as nightlights or glow-in-the-dark tampons?

            I've seen examples of the former ... I'm terrified to ask google if the latter is real or not.

            And, how would you know it works? ;-)

        • by erice (13380)

          But what if you have a moral objection to killing an animal for leather but prefer bio-engineered leather to any of the synthetic replacements and are willing to pay the premium for bio-engineered? Then this is perfect for you...

          I'm betting anybody who is staying away from leather for ethical reasons is going to look at the idea of tank-grown leather and still be thinking "that still sounds nasty".

          Then again, maybe a whole bunch of vegans are just waiting for tank-grown leather and there's a market for it.

          There are an awful lot of Hindus whose objection to cow-hide has little to do with Western "organic/save the whales" ethics.

        • I do not like to eat meat. If I am at a party I will try my best to determine if the dish has meat in it and if I can see meat, I will not eat it but if I do not see meat and take the dish I will not throw it away. I see no purpose to that. It is the same with leather. I do believe that leather is the only reason someone kills a cow as the main reason is the meat. For me the question is do I think their skin should go to waste rather than me using it? I have trouble with that since they will make mone
      • by Hentes (2461350)

        Leather is pretty much just a biproduct of the meat industry, the are no animals grown for their hide. Fur is a different thing, but they couldn't grow that.

        • s/for leather/for leather and meat/

          Happy?

          • by Hentes (2461350)

            My point was, those animals would die regardless if we use their leather or not. This is like saying that forest are being cut down for paper.

            • by Grishnakh (216268)

              Exactly. There are precisely zero cows killed for their skin; they're killed for their meat. The only way lab-grown leather would make any sense is if they simultaneously introduce lab-grown beef. As long as cows are killed for their meat, there's going to be piles of left-over cow skin. If you don't use it for leather, it's just going to go to waste.

              • by h4rr4r (612664)

                Beyondmeant is working on that problem right now, by making a replacement. Others are working on growing it in a vat.

                Either way exciting times.

        • by Talderas (1212466)

          It would be interesting if they could do vat grown fur.

          I could see the headlines now.

          "PETA dumps animal blood on owner for wearing synthetic fur coat."

        • Fully functional skin(ie. with follicles and everything) is a much higher bar to clear than more primitive 'thin-layer-of-epidermal-cells' type stuff that they've been using as burn dressings for years now; but if animals can grow fur, there isn't any obvious objection to a sufficiently advanced tissue-culture process being able to grow skin with fur on it(potentially even in sizes/patterns/textures that aren't available in nature).

    • by Creepy (93888)

      Like anything, in the short term it will be more expensive. In the long term, we get replicators. This sort of thing would really be good for my old vegan roommate, who every once in a while had to have bacon, but otherwise was faithful to being a vegan. If the bacon was printed, and no matter what the price, I know she'd definitely feel morally better if it weren't from a dead animal.

      • by Tarlus (1000874)

        my old vegan roommate, who every once in a while had to have bacon, but otherwise was faithful to being a vegan

        My ex wife would do the same thing. Declared herself a vegetarian but was still a closet meat-eater from time to time when nobody was watching. Had to break the news to her that she was in fact not a vegetarian.

        • Had to break the news to her that she was in fact not a vegetarian.

          I assume that you did not literally have to break the news.

          Rather, you wanted to break the news -- doing so felt good.

          Oh yes, I have done the same, and I know that feeling well. There is something wonderfully gratifying, when calling a hypocrite on their hypocrisy, when the hypocrite in question is an ex-wife or -girlfriend. Sweet revenge! Finally!

        • I've had to scrub a few of the victory marks off my grill when I found out that I hadn't turned them from the dark side. They were meat eaters all along.

    • by jythie (914043)
      Hard to say how well it will scale, but other types of manufacturing have. Farming has a lot of waste, a lot of inefficiency... depending on how the details work out, producing just the parts you want for an application might, long term, pan out pretty well.
    • If it's going to be expensive, might as well grow it with an artificial pattern such as houndstooth.

    • Someone that has a moral objection to real leather but wants the qualities of real leather might use this. From a purely fashion standpoint, yes this seems silly; fake leather looks like real leather. But from a practical use standpoint, this will be great for people that are morally opposed to real leather; fake leather is usually not heat-resistant, rip-proof, etc. etc. - basically it has none of the qualities of leather except looking similar. As someone that is vegetarian largely for moral reasons, that
      • Depending on the production process, there might also be engineering advantages:

        Real leather is constrained by the shape and properties of the animal you removed it from. Unless your intended use case is eerily cow shaped, this usually means a bunch of cutting and sewing or other joining needs to happen. If the synthesized stuff is handled by some 'print collagen matrix, seed with cells, immerse in nutrient fluid' type process, you could theoretically produce pieces that are seamless and correctly shaped(po

    • You may be long about real leather being a lot cheaper than bio engineered leather.

      Granted, you have doubts about this being able to scale up. But lets assume for a moment you are wrong.

      The inputs to the process are going to be somewhat similar to the inputs required to raise a cow. But the quantity of those inputs should be much lower. You only need enough food / nutrients to grow the skin. You do not need to support the rest of the mass of the cow. The waste (urine, feces) would also be lower. No bo

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      Since this is for LEATHER, and not for food or medical use, I could easily see this scaling to a very large scale.

      Think of it in these terms:

      You take a skin sample from a cow.
      You chemically alter the living cells, so that they become "HeLa-Like" basal cell carcinoma.
      Puree, add to vegetable based growth medium, heat gently, and stir continuously.
      Inject the cell "paste" into an injection mold, pretreated with some additional synthetic hormones.
      Wait 7 days
      Decant, steam, cut, and tan.

    • I don't have a moral objection to leather. I have a financial objection to it. That shit is expensive.

      Plus, the size of the animal limits how big a solid, unstiched sheet of it can be. I am all for in-vitro leather if it can bring the price down and give us larger pieces.

  • by AttillaTheNun (618721) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:49PM (#41451285)

    I could discover sustainable cold fusion in as little as 5 years. Of course, there is always the chance it may take me longer, or forever.

    • by tnk1 (899206) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:12PM (#41451635)

      I could discover sustainable cold fusion in as little as 5 years. Of course, there is always the chance it may take me longer, or forever.

      I already have discovered it. It works perfectly and solves all the energy issues we might have for a few hundred years of constant growth.

      The only obstacle that is in front of me is just finding the right lobbyist to help get a repeal for certain regressive laws of nature currently on the books.

    • by tsa (15680)

      Exactly. In the 1970s we would have flat TV screens within 10 years. In the 1980s we would have the picture phone real soon now. In the 1990s Linux on the desktop would be next year.
      When will people please stop these rubbish predictions?

  • Even better (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:49PM (#41451295) Journal
    Leather is fine, but this could lead to new synthetic materials that improve on leather.
    • by Tarlus (1000874)

      Or even just leather without physical imperfections, creases, etc.

      • by Dogtanian (588974)

        Or even just leather without physical imperfections, creases, etc.

        Want to bet that if this lab-grown leather becomes successful, many people will latch on to those "imperfections" as a sign of "real" leather and it'll become more desirable?

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:50PM (#41451303)

    Leather as a material is actually very interesting.

    Light, Flexible, Sturdy, Tough, and a great insulator.

    Still there isn't a replacement for it in a lot of protective gear. Such as Motorcycle jackets, they are not to make you look bad-ass but if you fall off your bike as an armor so you don't scrape yourself all up. Metal and Plastic is too ridgid, or too flimsy. Leather has the perfect use.

    However I don't see much of a market for artificial leather, only because we are still eating cows. Most farms don't produce leather only cattle, but beef cattle what use the hides for leather.

    Now if this technology makes affordable meat like it thinks it could, then perhaps artifical leather can come in.

    • by ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:56PM (#41451385)

      There are plenty of synthetic replacements for motorcycle leather at much the same price, mostly in the kevlar family, approximately.

    • by WillAdams (45638) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:08PM (#41451585) Homepage

      Leather is constrained in size by how large a cow will grow, in thickness by the thickest point available for a given area (if you want to work really large, you can't get hides as thick as if you're willing to work smaller) and in quality by how pampered the creature was in its life (Rolls Royce uses cows raised in special pastures w/ wooden fencing (no barbed wire) and the hides which they reject would be top quality elsewhere).

      Also, presumably this material won't require the tanning process, so one will get material equivalent to vegetable tanned w/o the nasty chemicals of chrome tanned.

      Moreover, even though leather can be considered a by-product of the meat industry, it's not cheap --- a full hide is well over $100.

      William

      • by srmalloy (263556)

        Also, presumably this material won't require the tanning process, so one will get material equivalent to vegetable tanned w/o the nasty chemicals of chrome tanned.

        If you don't tan it, what you have is rawhide, not leather; tanning preserves the flexibility, softness, and stretchability of the material. It wouldn't be necessary to unhair the material, and since you'd be able to control what layers of the skin are grown, you would reduce or eliminate the need for fleshing it, and could control the fiber growth to reduce or eliminate the need for liming it, but you'd still have the tanning process itself, whether vegetable or mineral.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Still there isn't a replacement for it in a lot of protective gear. Such as Motorcycle jackets

      Well, except for maybe ballistic nylon (Cordura), plastic, and kevlar. Think Joe Rocket.

      I see a lot of gear now using those things, and they've been around quite a while.

      That doesn't invalidate your argument entirely, but for motorcycle jackets I know for a fact that you can get a good replacement for leather.

      • by mikestew (1483105)

        The difference being that leather can take a few slides down the pavement and still be usable. Synthetics are often a one-shot deal. A horrifically bad session of pavement surfing can put a hole through synthetics when quality leather will still have some thickness left. In either case, you probably walk away with your skin intact. If replacing a $700 First Gear jacket the first time it goes down saves you a skin graft, money well spent.

        That said, I like my Aerostich just fine, I just wouldn't wear it for a

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          The difference being that leather can take a few slides down the pavement and still be usable. Synthetics are often a one-shot deal.

          Really? I haven't ridden in years, so I don't know ... but I'd thought Cordura had abrasion resistance which was far in excess of almost anything natural.

          That said, I like my Aerostich just fine, I just wouldn't wear it for a session of track racing.

          Judging by the number of people I know who used to duct-tape knee-pads to their leathers because they'd worn though in the corner

          • by Pope (17780)

            Really? I haven't ridden in years, so I don't know ... but I'd thought Cordura had abrasion resistance which was far in excess of almost anything natural.

            Nope, leather's still the best from an abrasion perspective. But all in all, it's the gear you actually wear rather than the stuff left in the closet that'll protect the best :)

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              Nope, leather's still the best from an abrasion perspective. But all in all, it's the gear you actually wear rather than the stuff left in the closet that'll protect the best :)

              Oh, so very true.

              I remember years ago when my brother raced and my father was on his 4th bike or so ... saw a guy driving down the road in cut off jeans, sneakers, and a helmet.

              I just remember thinking how badly mangled he'd be if he ever wiped out. I'd take being too warm over skin grafts any day.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Space_Merchants [wikipedia.org]
    I can't read about synthetic animal parts without thinking about the enormous mass of chicken, referred to as "Chicken Little" that is used in the book as a source of protein by continually slicing off hunks from the always growing mass of chicken heart cells. :)
  • So... Would this be Vegan?

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Bioengineered Leather (PETBL) Because the bioengineered leather has rights too...
  • by Zemran (3101) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @12:55PM (#41451379) Homepage Journal

    ... to the skins of all those cows we eat? The beef industry is not going to stop killing the cows, but now they will have to throw away the skins rather than turn them into leather. We will have to pay more for our beef, pork etc. to cover this cost and then pay for the fake leather as well...

    • by Creepy (93888)

      Did you RTFA or even the headline? Their goal is to ultimately make meat, and leather is just a step to getting there.

    • by jythie (914043)
      There are plenty of people who do not want any of their money going to the cattle industry.
    • by Verdatum (1257828) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:04PM (#41451525)
      The same fears happened when vinyl pleather first came out. The same fears happened when man-made diamonds became feasible. The market adjusts. The skins still get sold, and the price of the original commodity usually doesn't drop as much as people fear.
      • man-made diamonds became feasible

        Well, that's because the chunk of rock doesn't mean as much if it's not unnaturally expensively priced, obviously.

    • The cattle industry will never throw away animal hides, or any other part of the animal. It all goes into some industrial process, every last scrap.
      • The cattle industry will never throw away animal hides, or any other part of the animal. It all goes into some industrial process, every last scrap.

        Given that some current tissue-culture techniques rely on a collagen scaffold to guide the living cells seeded into the structure, it would entirely fail to surprise me if some amount of cow hide ends up being quietly broken down for collagen, which will then be printed into scaffolds on which 'ethical leather' can be grown...

  • CAFO's
    Processed Foods
    Fake Meat
    Lots of added cancer and disease causing chemicals.
    Missing out on the important natural micronutrients.
    Yuck.
    Give me real meat.
    Leather comes from harvesting meat. It's a way to use the rest of the animals.

    If you object to eating meat for ethical reasons then stop eating plants you Kingdomist. Plants have feelings too!

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      After all, as the Arrogant Worms pointed out, Carrot Juice is Murder [youtube.com].

    • by cellocgw (617879)

      Uh, really? Since most micronutrients are elements or minerals, perhaps you could explain what an artificial version is. Vitamins, the only other class of micronutrients, are easily added to lab-grown biologicals.
      I didn't see anything in TFA about adding teratogenics to the mix. On the contrary, it's the four-legged "real cow" version which is chock full of antibiotics and feed additives.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        " it's the four-legged "real cow" version which is chock full of antibiotics and feed additives."
        a) Depnds
        B) You probably should take some time to understand the antibiotic issue before spouting off. There is no evidence that current use of antibiotic in animals has any effect on the consumer at all. HINT: it's used upp or peed out. Why do people think antibiotics are some magic creature that survives forever?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Lots of strawmen there, presumably form your ignorance.

      But hey, lt's not lets science, data and facts inform you. You would have to spend all the fort throwing around more fallacious argument, cause you certainly wouldn't think about it.

      Of course, the fact that it interferes with your lively has no bearing on your opinion, I'm sure~

  • We're still going to eat beef. We're still going to slaughter the cows. If we create synthetic leather, do they suggest we just throw the real stuff away? I doubt cattle are killed strictly for their skin and all the meat is discarded, so synthetic parts don't really save them from getting the axe anyway.
    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      Real leather will get sold cheaper to people who don't care; beef will get slightly more expensive.

  • Tissue-culture bioreactors, as far as I know, usually grow tissue on fetal calf serum, which come from slaughtered cattle. (Sometimes they use mice, fertilized chicken eggs, etc.)

    So you have to slaughter even more cattle to create leather in bioreactors.

    Right?

  • vat grown steaks. I/ for one, can not wait for that day.

  • I can't imagine that the people who believe killing animals is unethical will be happy with harvesting skin and muscle from a bioengineered cow monster. Both of these are icky. If your trying to avoid ickyness then this is not the product for you.
  • by Burning1 (204959) on Tuesday September 25, 2012 @01:51PM (#41452359) Homepage

    As a motorcyclist, I'm really interested in this.

    Although amazing progress has been made in synthetics, for heavy duty use (read, racing, trackdays, etc.) leather is still king. We've known for a while that there are benefits to the way cows are cared for. The most protective leather comes from cows that aren't kept in barbed wire fences, and raised above the mosquito lines; there is less damage to the hide that way, making for fewer potential points of failure.

    Large sheets of leather are also valuable, as they reduce the number of seams in the leather, and permit them to be moved away from common abrasion zones.

    Type of leather is also important to us... Good cow leather is usually at least 1.4mm thick, and a full leather suit can be quite heavy (>10lbs.) Kangaroo leather is desirable for this application, since it's lighter and often stronger than cow leather.

    I'll be interested seeing what comes of these materials.

  • by Teun (17872)
    Only yesterday I bought a new (Crumpler) laptop bag where the creator claims it was even made of Holy Cow leather...
  • Tissue has rights too!

  • false ethics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I am an omnivore, and I maintain that it is no more unethical for me to kill and eat animals than it is for chimps,bear, dogs, racoons, or any other omnivore to kill and eat animals.

Mr. Cole's Axiom: The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant; the population is growing.

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