Breakthrough in race to deliver credible lab-grown meat

Harvard researchers come up with steak that closely resembles real texture


The journey to perfecting meat grown in the lab from animal cells rather than reared in farms, has taken an interesting turn. A breakthrough by researchers at the Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) could bring the days of lab-cultured steak that little bit closer.

One of the challenges is that while some lab-grown meat experiments have achieved the consistency and taste of products such as sausages and burgers, aping firmer, highly textured animal products such as steak is much trickier.

According to research published in NJP Science of Foodcience of Food the Harvard team has grown rabbit and cow muscle cells on edible gelatin scaffolds. They claim this is a significant breakthrough in delivering an analogue that has the texture and consistency of meat. A vegan-friendly version, which uses scaffolding from other edible molecules, was also trialled and successfully implemented.

The Harvard experiment addresses one of the key issues with lab-grown meat — how to replicate the long thin fibres which give it much of its texture. The scientists succeeded by using an immersion rotary jet spinner — a bit like a candy floss maker — to enable gelatin fibres to form the base for growing the cells. According to the research “the fibres mimic natural muscle tissue’s extracellular matrix — the glue that holds the tissue together and contributes to its texture”.

The team then seeded the fibres with rabbit and cow muscle cells, which anchored to the gelatin and grew in long, thin structures, similar to real meat.

“There’s a lot more work to do,” admitted study author Luke MacQueen of Harvard. “The meat texture has yet to be fully recreated.”

As for the taste — well lab etiquette and food safety issues meant that the scientists could only prod their results, not eat it for lunch.

The breakthrough is likely to heighten interest once again in a potentially significant investment niche.

In recent years, high-profile start-ups such as Mosa Meat and Memphis Meats have completed significant funding rounds as they seek to create lab cultured meat-style products. They argue that these will deliver a more sustainable, ethical alternative to slaughtered meat.

Mosa Meat predicts its cultured meat could be commercially available in restaurants as soon as 2021 costing around $11 per (£8.50) per hamburger

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