Engineered Cow Cells Growing Rapidly, Could Drastically Reduce Cultured Meat Costs

Lab-Grown Meat Advancements in Cultivated Meat Production

Lab-Grown Meat Advancements in Cultivated Meat Production

Cow muscle cells cultivated for meat make their own growth substance, doing away with expensive culture mediums

Alonso Nichols, Tufts University

Advancements in Cultivated Meat Production

Researchers have engineered cows’ muscle cells that can multiply without the assistance of an expensive and energy-intensive growth-boosting substance. If scaled up, they are optimistic this could slash the production costs of lab-grown meat but they stress that it is still early days.

Lab-grown, or cultivated, meat can be produced from animal cells. Approved for sale in countries such as the US and the Netherlands, it has been touted as a more ethical and sustainable substitute to conventional meat, by avoiding the slaughter of animals and using fewer resources, such as water.

But the current, small-scale methods of producing lab-grown meat have still proven to be extremely energy intensive and expensive.

Challenges in Cultivating Lab-Grown Meat

To grow cells outside an animal, they must be cultivated in a cell culture medium, a mixture of nutrients and growth factors. The latter latch onto receptors on the surface of animal cells and tell them to grow and differentiate, making them a crucial part of the mixture, says Andrew Stout at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Currently, these make up around 90 per cent of the cost of lab-grown meat production, so Stout and his colleagues wanted to come up with an alternative approach.

They first built small DNA molecules called plasmids that contained genes with instructions for cells to produce their own growth factors for fibroblasts, cells that help to form connective tissues.

Potential Solution and Future Prospects

The researchers then inserted these plasmids into cows’ muscle cells, finding that they differentiated into skeletal muscle cells, common components of steaks and beef burgers, that grew and multiplied.

Although the researchers only experimented with cow cells, they think the technique will also work on cells from other animals, such as chickens and pigs. They hope these engineered cells could one day aid in expanding the scale and lowering the cost of cultivating lab-grown meat.

“Give a cell a fibroblast growth factor and it’ll grow for a day, but teach a cell to produce its own fibroblast growth factor and it’ll grow forever,” says Stout. “This is just a proof of concept, but it’s really exciting to think about how cells can be our allies in this endeavor and we can engineer them to help us.”

According to Eirini Theodosiou at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, “there is still a long way to go until lab-grown meat becomes a commodity, but every day we are getting a step closer to it”.

Issues that need to be overcome include the team’s cultivated meat growing slower than with conventional approaches, says Theodosiou. In addition, foods that contain genetically modified organisms, such as these plasmids, are only legal in some countries and there is still a widespread reluctance to eat them, she says.

The development of fast-growing engineered cow cells has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of cultured meat production. By utilizing cells that grow at an accelerated rate, companies can streamline the process of creating lab-grown meat, making it more feasible for widespread consumption. This advancement could also allow for a more efficient use of resources, as less time and energy would be required to produce larger quantities of cultured meat. Additionally, the ability to cultivate these cells in a controlled environment provides an opportunity to improve the overall quality and consistency of lab-grown meat products, further increasing their appeal to consumers.

In addition to cost savings, the use of fast-growing engineered cow cells could also address the aesthetic concerns associated with cultured meat. With the ability to tweak the cells to mimic the appearance and texture of traditional meat, companies can create lab-grown products that closely resemble their animal-derived counterparts. This could play a significant role in encouraging consumer acceptance and adoption of cultured meat, as the visual appeal of the products is often a key factor in purchasing decisions. By leveraging these engineered cells, the cultured meat industry has the potential to not only reduce costs, but also to create products that are more visually appealing and closer to the experience of consuming traditional meat.

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