Creating the Future of Food with Cell-cultured Meat

As the leading supplier of 3D bioprinters and biomaterials, CELLINK enables researchers to create the future of health. Conceivably, creating the future of food with bioprinted meat isn’t far behind.

What is cell-cultured or 3D bioprinted meat?

The food industry and researchers are increasingly talking about cell-cultured meat, also known as lab-grown or bioprinted meat, as a more sustainable alternative to meat production. Ongoing efforts include developing and optimizing in vitro tissue fabrication. For example, researchers might use edible bioinks and an extrusion- or light-based bioprinter, like the forthcoming BIONOVA X, to bioprint complex scaffolds for seeding muscle, fat and blood cells. Or, as shown in a study from Osaka University, scientists could manually assemble bioprinted fibers to engineer cuts of meat that mimic the histological structure of a steak. For example, one might introduce marbling and tendons to improve taste and texture. 

How lab-grown meat can help with global warming

From a sustainability standpoint, cell-cultured meat production could help meet the increasing demand for animal-based proteins while minimizing the environmental stresses of traditional animal husbandry. Some proposals for reducing dependence on animals as food include promoting dietary changes, like traditional vegetarianism, veganism, or even supplementing diets with insect-based proteins. But using technology to improve agriculture is nothing new. Technological solutions, like 3D cell culturing and tissue engineering, have shown considerable promise as an alternate means of production. Given their simpler composition and structure, cultured milk and egg whites might hit the supermarket shelves sooner, but researchers are developing lab-grown steaks with 3D bioprinters like the BIO X6™.  

Other advantages to 3D bioprinted meat

Other possible benefits of lab-grown meat include cost savings and ease of transport. These considerations have attracted the interests of varied sectors, from military and aerospace to healthcare facilities looking to personalize foods for those with nutritional intolerances or allergies 

Shipping containers on a ship

Research challenges bioprinting edible meat

One thing is certain, researchers cannot simply deposit stem cells into a 2D petri dish and expect them to differentiate. Given that in vivo cell behavior is affected by spatial arrangements, creating a representative 3D environment for cells is essential. A biocompatible scaffold could be bioprinted on a light-based DLP 3D bioprinter like the Lumen X+™, then seeded with stem cells. The BIONOVA X light-based bioprinter presents additional opportunities to bioprint cell-laden bioinks with unparalleled precision, resolution and speed.  

Another option involves differentiating stem cells into muscle and fat cells by 3D bioprinting them into the desired structure within a support bath. Stem cell-laden bioinks could be dispensed into a support bath such as LifeSupport® by FluidForm. using the syringe printhead of a 3D extrusion-based bioprinter. This slurry, consisting of compacted gelatin microparticles would allow the extrusion of fine cellularized fibers in 3D without fear of collapsing. Once the printed fibers have been crosslinked, the support slurry could be melted away to release the structure to be further cultured to promote cell differentiation. To produce a viable cell-cultured meat, support bath bioprinting would need to be scalable and edible biomaterials would have to be further refined.  

How safe is cell-cultured meat?

Lab-cultured meats will offer longer shelf lives, minimize the need for antibiotics, and could also facilitate stronger quality control management, like minimizing the risk of epidemics among livestock or food-borne bacterial outbreaks affecting consumers.  

When will lab-grown meat be available?

In Singapore, some restaurants have been authorized to serve cell-cultured meat. At the same time, similar ventures in the U.S. are gearing up, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering labeling and regulatory protocols to ensure consumer safety. Beyond determining the material properties of the food to be bioprinted, the development of the food ink is one bottleneck facing this novel 3D bioprinting technique, some researchers argue. It is worth nothing that CELLINK is researching the use of plant-based bioinks as cell-friendly and edible options 

A photograph of a hamburger made with cultured meat, grown in a lab by food tech company Mosa Meat