Bioengineered meat is quickly becoming the hype these days thanks to the Impossible and Beyond burgers, which are busy battling to claim the lab-grown supremacy. As if the existing competition was not enough, we now have another contender; bioengineered and edible muscles.
A group of researchers hailing from Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) department have explained their work on meat analogs in a paper that was published in the scientific journal NPJ Science of Food.
The team made use of smooth muscle cells from bovine aortas, and skeletal muscle myoblasts from rabbits in order to create the synthesized muscle. Myoblasts are the embryonic cells that eventually turn into muscle cells, also known as myocytes.
Scientists have been able to culture both kinds of muscle cells in ‘gelatin fiber scaffolds’ as per the paper. The relied on immunohistochemical straining – selective identification of antigens in cells of a tissue. The scientists utilize this process for the sake of verifying that both the bovine and rabbit cell types are attached to gelatin fibers. Through histology (the study of microscopic tissue), scanning electron microscopy, and mechanical testing, the team was able to demonstrate that synthetic muscle didn’t have the mature contractile architecture that is observed in natural muscle tissue. However, it did prove that the engineered muscle came with identical structural and mechanical features that conventional meat products possess.
In simpler words, this implies that the lab-produced meat had a similar consistency and texture as natural meat does. Kit Parker, the lead author of the study and the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at SEAS, has said that he became interested in food after judging a competition show known as Runway Chocolate on Food Network.
Parker said, ‘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 apply 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. This is our first effort to bring hardcore engineering design and scalable manufacturing to the creation of food.’
Luke MacQueen, the first author of the study and a research associate at SEAS and the Wyss Institute for Bioinspired Engineering, said, ‘To grow muscle tissues that resembled meat, we needed to find a ‘scaffold’ material that was edible and allowed muscle cells to attach and grow in 3D. It was important to find an efficient way to produce large amounts of these scaffolds to justify their potential use in food production.’
MacQueen further said, ‘Muscle and fat cell maturation in vitro is still a really big challenge that will take a combination of advanced stem cell sources, serum-free culture media formulations, edible scaffolds such as ours, as well as advances in bioreactor culture methods to overcome.’ Parker said, ‘Moving forward, the goals are nutritional content, taste, texture, and affordable pricing. The long-range goal is reducing the environmental footprint of food.’