Lab-grown meat is beginning to look more and feel like a practical alternative to conventional meat, but there are many obstacles that need to be addressed. Boston College researchers have found a new approach to cultivated meat that uses the veiny skeletons of spinach leaves as scaffolds for growing meat.
As the population grows and arable land gets scarcer, the use of meat from cellular agriculture can play an important role in food security. Lab-grown meat uses a fraction of the water and energy required in traditional livestock husbandry and has considerably lower greenhouse gas emissions. It also has the added advantage of being slaughter free.
Dutch scientist Mark Post unveiled the first cultivated meat burger in 2013. Since then, the industry has since grown exponentially and cell-based meat startups received more than $360 million in investments in 2020, or six times the amount raised in 2019, according to the Good Food Institute, a non-profit group in Washington, DC, that monitors and promotes awareness of plant-based and cultivated meat innovation.
In order to provide the texture of meat cells, a scaffold is needed to provide structural support. Some in vitro meat products use collagen derived from animal scaffolds. Recent strides have been made in edible and non-animal scaffolds. The lab-grown rib-eye steak by Aleph Farms was cultivated using scaffolds made of soy proteins.
More recently, a team from Boston College built scaffolds out of decellularized plant tissue using spinach, advancing earlier research in which human heart tissue was cultivated using the leafy green.
In the current research, the veiny spinach leaves were stripped of their plant cells and used as a scaffold for cow stem cells. Cellulose is abundant in nature and is renewable, making it ideal for cellular agriculture. Even though the research is at an early stage, the scientists see it as a promising basis for the development of lab-grown meat products down the road.
"We need to scale this up by growing more cells on the leaves to create a thicker steak," said Glenn Gaudette, the study's lead author. The team is now examining other types of animal and plant cells.
The work was presented in the journal Food Bioscience.
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