Stacking sheets of tissue builds better lab-grown meat
A pair of researchers at McMaster University's School of Biomedical Engineering have developed a way of cultivating meat that not only does away with the animal, but also allows for greater control over the texture and taste of the end product.
The idea of creating meat by cultivating animal cells rather than from the animal itself is an attractive proposition. Regarded as having a lower environmental impact than raising livestock, cultivated or lab-grown meat also avoids the ethical concerns that many people have about eating meat.
However, cultivating meat isn't like growing mushrooms. Meat is essentially muscle organs, which are a complex assembly of various tissues that have been exercised through the animal's lifetime to produce the right texture, consistency, and taste. In addition, it's not just a matter of what cells are present in the meat, but the ratio and distribution as well. This is why anyone who has eaten a well-marbled beef steak with a high fat content and then a very lean bison steak will certainly be able to tell the difference.
While some food engineers have been able to create cultured meat that resembles minced beef, minute steaks, and chicken nuggets, a greater level of control is needed to give cultured meat the full taste and feel of conventional meat. To put it another way, there needs to be much more control over producing the meat to required specifications.
McMaster University's Ravi Selvaganapathy and Alireza Shahin-Shamsabadi have come up with a way to gain some of this control. The method is derived from one that was originally developed to grow tissues for human transplants and involves producing sheets of cells in a nutrient medium, which are then concentrated in paper-thin layers on growth plates. These sheets are then peeled off and stacked or folded together, bonding to one another before the cells die.
As a result, the sheets can not only be stacked up as much as desired to create slabs of meat, but the percentage of fat and degree of marbling can be made to order in much the same way as the fat content of milk is controlled. In addition, the sheets can be cultivated in days and assembled in hours.
The first demonstration of the concept made meat from mouse cells. The team couldn't bring themselves to tuck into a mouse chop, so they made another sample from rabbit cells for cooking and tasting.
"It felt and tasted just like meat," says Selvaganapathy.
According to the researchers, who have established a start-up company to market the concept, the technology is scalable for mass production and there are no obstacles to it being used for cultivating beef, pork, or chicken.
The research was published in Cells Tissues Organs.
Source: McMaster University