Virginia Tech researchers on team awarded USD 10 million to bring cultured meat closer to the plate | VTx
Although the private cell farming industry has made strides in recent years, including the launch of the first commercially available cultured meat product in Singapore in 2020, this public research funding comes at a time when many factors stifle a significant increase in production: high production cost, incomplete knowledge of consumer preferences, and limited access to the appropriate cell lines to begin the cell culture process, to name a few.
Whether it’s a fish fillet, a beef patty or a chicken nugget, it all starts with cells, the basic building blocks of organisms.
“In our lab, we focus on stem cells from aquatic species to create seafood,” explained Lexi Duscher, postdoctoral researcher at AREC Virginia Seafood and co-PI working in the Ovissipour lab.
Using fish stem cells, which can be ethically collected from live animals, Duscher will differentiate cells to selectively grow muscle and fat cells – the same cells and tissues that make up fish fillets that you can buy. at the store. The cells, grown in specialized laboratory media, will then be assembled into a fish fillet.
Ovissipour and his team at the Virginia Seafood AREC will fill the gaps in the development of cellular agriculture specific to seafood. The funding will support the development of stem cell lines for priority seafood species, the search for alternative media for cell culture and machine learning and artificial intelligence applications to optimize production and reduce costs.
The project brings together six academic institutions: Virginia Tech, Tufts University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Davis, Virginia State University and University of Massachusetts, Boston. Their collaboration will provide a clearer picture of what this new technology could make possible for consumers, the environment and the future of food.
Led by David Kaplan of Tufts University, the multidisciplinary research team draws on individual expertise in molecular biology, biomedical engineering, food chemistry, food safety, environmental sciences, marketing, etc. Virginia Tech researchers to receive $ 3.2 million in funding to help overcome barriers to industry expansion for cellular agriculture as a new food production system, helping to secure supply future food and to provide consumers with new product options to explore their favorite meat dishes. in a new way.
The team will provide information on the preferences of target consumers, data on consumers’ willingness to pay for laboratory-grown products, media and cell lines for terrestrial and aquatic animals, as well as an education path and training to equip the next generation of professionals with the multidisciplinary skills needed to provide technical advice and leadership for the budding industry.
“In addition to science, a trained and skilled workforce is needed to strengthen the field of cellular agriculture,” Kaplan said. “The rapid growth of industries focused on high protein alternative foods over the past five years has left a shortage of trained people available to support technological development and business expansion. ”
Building a mouthful of food requires the growth of millions of cells. A major technical challenge inhibiting industry scale-up is the cost of the specialized, nutrient-rich media used to grow cells at high volume in the laboratory.
Media traditionally used for cell culture in biomedical applications use bovine serum collected from animals. This serum-based medium is as expensive as it is ethically questionable in its supply for use in cellular agriculture applications.
“Over 90 percent of the cost of cell culture is due to media, and over 99 percent of the cost of media is due to bovine serum,” Ovissipour said. “We are using bioprocessing technology and fermentation to convert agricultural waste, various insects, algae and other resources into growth factors for cells to replace serum, and we are also developing a recirculation system to use this serum-free medium. exhausted to save more money. for industry, providing an animal-free alternative and reducing waste.