Plant-based scaffold may boost the production of cultured meat
One of the challenges of creating lab-grown meat involves giving it a texture like that of the real thing. A new cell culture scaffold could help, as it's reportedly inexpensive, edible, and made of plant-based substances.
When producing cultured meat, scientists will typically start with cells from a certain type of animal (such as a cow), seed those cells onto a three-dimensional material with a scaffolding-like microstructure, then wait for those cells to reproduce within that structure. The result is a solid piece of lab-grown meat, with a realistic(ish) texture provided by the scaffold.
So far, most of the scaffolds have been made of experimental synthetic materials which are expensive and/or inedible, or made of materials derived from slaughtered animals – the latter of which defeats the whole purpose of growing meat in a lab.
Seeking a better alternative, scientists from the National University of Singapore looked to prolamins, which are proteins found in the developing seeds of plants. More specifically, the researchers extracted prolamins known as zeins, hordeins and secalins from corn, barley and rye flour, respectively.
Bio-inks composed of various mixtures of those prolamins were then used to 3D-print cell culture scaffolds, to which stem cells from pig skeletal muscle tissue were added. After 11 days, scaffolds made from zein/hordein and zein/secalin inks appeared to work particularly well. The scientists proceeded to use a zein/secalin scaffold – with beet extract added for color – to produce a slice of natural-pork-like tissue over a 12-day period.
Importantly, the prolamin scaffolds were found to grow pig cells faster than those made of polycaprolactone, which is a polymer commonly used in tissue engineering.
"Scaffolds made from plant proteins are edible and have diverse and variable peptide sequences that can facilitate cell attachment, induce differentiation, and speed up the growth of meat," said the lead scientist, Prof. Huang Dejian. "In contrast, synthetic scaffolds such as plastic beads used for cultured meat have no functional group which makes it difficult for animal cells to attach and proliferate. In addition, synthetic scaffolds are not edible and extra steps are required to separate the scaffolds from the meat culture."
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials. For another example of plant-based cell culture scaffolds, check out the research performed at Britain's University of Bath.
Source: National University of Singapore
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