Cultured meat

May soon be available

Published: Monday 15 August 2005

As good as natural meat (Credit: University of maryland)think of growing chicken pieces without the chicken: no, this is no wild fantasy. In a paper published in the June 29, 2005 issue of the journal Tissue Engineering (Vol 11, No 5/6), an international team of scientists proposes two new techniques of tissue engineering that may lead to industrial production of in vitro (lab grown) meat for human consumption. The paper was accepted by the journal after being peer-reviewed.

The challenge for cultured meat is not only that it taste like 'natural meat', but also have similar nutrients and texture. Natural meat mainly comprises skeletal muscle tissue of animals. Scientists know a single muscle cell from an animal can be isolated and divided into thousands of new muscle cells. Experiments conducted by the us -based National Aeronautical and Space Administration have already yielded cultured fish meat, which can be stored for a long time during space travel.

"But that experiment was geared toward a special situation. A different approach is required for large-scale (industrial) production," says Jason Matheny, one of the researchers, who works with the us -based University of Maryland.

One of the methods the team developed involves growing the cells in large flat sheets on thin membranes. The sheets of meat are grown and stretched, then removed from the membranes and stacked one on top of another to increase thickness.

As per the other method, muscle cells were grown on small three-dimensional beads that stretch with small changes in temperature. The mature cells could then be harvested and turned into processed meat, such as nuggets or hamburgers.

"The challenge was to get the texture right, and we figured out how to exercise the muscle cells. For the right texture, you have to stretch the tissue, like a live animal would," says Matheny.

Experts, however, say it might be difficult to convince consumers to eat cultured muscle meat, as is the case with genetically modified foodstuff. But the researchers are hopeful cultured meat would be accepted. "There would be a lot of benefits from cultured meat. For one thing, you could control the nutrients. For example, most meats are high in the fatty acid Omega 6, which can cause high cholesterol and other health problems. With in vitro meat, you could replace that with Omega 3, which is a healthy fat," adds Matheny.

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