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UT News

Breakthrough Taco Will Change Breakfast — and the World

Researchers and faculty members are calling the lab-grown taco a marvel of biotechnology.

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April 1, 2018

AUSTIN, Texas ­– The University of Texas at Austin is known for world-changing discoveries, but even top researchers on campus were stunned by the breakthrough announced today by President Gregory L. Fenves.

“I’m thrilled to announce UT researchers have found a way to grow the perfect breakfast taco,” said Fenves. “The potential impact of this innovation cannot be understated.”

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Eberlin’s research group was excited to test the MasSpec Pen on a newly grown taco. The diagnosis was good. Photo by Thomas Swafford.

Researchers and faculty members are calling the lab-grown taco a marvel of biotechnology.

“UT has an amazing combination of scientists and engineers addressing problems in society,” said Livia Eberlin, assistant professor in chemistry and co-inventor of the cancer-detecting MasSpec pen. “Sure, our device can detect cancer during surgery, but the breakfast taco plant, that’s really going to change the world.”

“Well, at first I didn’t believe it. It’s so big,” said Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation and inventor of Ethernet. “UT has long been a center in self-assembly research at the nanoscale all the way up to the macro scale. In fact, you could argue that this is one of the only places in the world where such an innovation could be accomplished: the self-assembly of the breakfast taco.”

Metcalfe, a leader in Austin’s entrepreneurial scene, says the startup community should not underestimate the impact of this technology. “The new discovery is bigger than the personal computer. It’s bigger than the internet,” he said.  

The taco innovation was the result of deep collaboration across campus drawing on multiple university resources, including the supercomputing and visualization capabilities of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).

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Student researchers at Texas Advance Computing Center (TACC) created 3D models of different taco types to simulate the consumer experience. Photo by Thomas Swafford.

“What TACC brings to this project really is some of the largest and most sophisticated computational infrastructure in the world — this is a project that really lets us push the limits of what we can do with computing,” said Dan Stanzione, associate vice president for research at UT Austin and executive director of TACC.

“With the rise of genomics and computational genetics, we can really blend our ability to do large-scale simulation with machine learning and very large-scale data analysis,” said Stanzione. “That was particularly true in this project. We really wanted to express not just the proteins, but the salsa correctly.”

This discovery has many asking: What does this mean for Austin? One could easily argue that Austin is the cultural epicenter of the breakfast taco movement, but there has been a long-standing rivalry with San Antonio. With this discovery, that debate may be ending.

“This is part of what it means to be an Austinite now. What it means to be a Texan,” said Art Markman, the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology. “We all know the breakfast taco is the best food on the planet, and this plant-based breakfast taco redefines that title. We’ve created a situation in which you can grow these anywhere. People could have one on their window sill. When I hold this in my hand, I realize that what starts here really does change the world.”
 

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Emily Le a junior majoring in Biology/Premedical at UT Austin’s College of Natural Science at UT Austin, waters the latest crop of taco plants.Photo by Thomas Swafford.

The tacos are not ready for the general public yet, but the patent is moving quickly toward commercialization.

“This started as an innovation to change breakfast, but we are also looking at lunch and dinner and it is testing well.” said Metcalfe, “The timing just wasn’t right with the filing of patents and the publishing of papers, but we’ll be ready for SXSW next year.”

Cheers to the first bite and the beginning of a great future for taco innovation at UT!

 

 

 

 

*Editor’s Note: Experts and their accomplishments featured are real, but unfortunately the taco innovation is not.