Sunday, 1 March 2020

Chew on that: Adding ‘real texture’ to lab-grown meat

Scientists have grown rabbit and cow muscles cells upon edible gelatin scaffolds in order to try to mimic the texture and consistency of meat. The initial results appear to demonstrate that realistic meat products could be produced without the need to raise and slaughter animals.

In the near future, based on successful studies, food technologist will be able to mass-produce meat directly from animal cells. Based on research conducted by CBInsights, alternative meat products represent potential big business. For this reason, major food giants from Tyson to Cargill are researching and investing in a future where most people will obtain their protein from sources other than traditional animal-based products.

Lab-grown meat is different from plant-based products which are designed to look at taste like meat. An example of a plant-based product is a burger comes from Impossible Foods, a California-based company. This is a plant-based patty that bleeds and sizzles when it cooks.

The adoption of artificial meat has many advocates from the non-financial perspective, such as Christopher Bryant of the University of Bath who reckons such products offer many advantages for society. As he tells Laboratory Manager magazine: “Cultured meat has the potential to reduce the ethical, environmental, and public health burdens associated with conventional livestock farming”.

One limitation with lab-grown meat is that while ‘taste’ is being perfected, consumers who have been allowed to test out products often report that the ‘texture’ does not always resemble meat.

A new study from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences uses edible gelatin scaffolds to try to better represent the texture and consistency of meat.

The reason for the complexity over this aspect of creating laboratory -cultured meat is because animal meat consists mostly of skeletal muscle together with fat tissue. This grows in long, thin fibers. Attempts to reproduce these fibers has become the biggest challenge in bioengineering meat.

According to lead researcher Professor Kit Parker: “The materials science expertise of the chefs was impressive…After discussions with them, I began to wonder if we could apply all that we knew about regenerative medicine to the design of synthetic foods. After all, everything we have learned about building organs and tissues for regenerative medicine applies to food: healthy cells and healthy scaffolds are the building substrates, the design rules are the same, and the goals are the same: human health.”

He follows this up by saying: “This is our first effort to bring hardcore engineering design and scalable manufacturing to the creation of food."

The new technique which seems to work is called immersion Rotary Jet-Spinning (iRJS). This method deploys a centrifugal force in order to spin long nanofibers of specific shapes and sizes.

In studies, the scientists successfully spun food-safe gelatin fibers so they could form the base for growing cells. The fiberswere able to  mimic natural muscle tissue's extracellular matrix (the ‘glue’ that holds the tissue together and contributes to its texture).

The study has been reported to the journal npj Science of Food, with the associated paper headed “Muscle tissue engineering in fibrous gelatin: implications for meat analogs.”

 Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology

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