Meat cultivation is a highly innovative field that is poised to disrupt the food industry. As meat cultivation continues to generate buzz all over the world, it is not surprising that many people are curious about the scientific specifics of the cultivation method. The following article takes readers on a behind the scenes tour of the cultivated meat production process.
In previous articles, we attempted to answer the question “what is cultivated meat?”. This time around, we’ve decided to focus on the “how”. To best explain how cultivated meat is made, we broke the process into several key stages.
Before we begin, it is important to emphasize that the meat cultivation process takes place in an advanced and sterile laboratory environment. Therefore, meat cultivation is not only very precise and fully controlled, but also requires specific scientific expertise. Every step in the process has its own unique and detailed protocol, which must be executed to a tee. So, having said that, let’s jump right in:
Tissue Collection and Stem Cell Isolation
This is the very first step of the cultivated meat process. During this stage, a sample of tissue is ethically collected from an animal. This process is administered in the most humane way possible, in order to minimize the animal’s discomfort. After collection, the tissue is placed in culture, enabling the stem cells to grow and isolate themselves from the tissue.
After the stem cells are collected, they are placed into a bioreactor. The bioreactor supports cell growth and proliferation by “mimicking” the conditions the cells would normally benefit from if they were to develop inside the animal. The cells grow inside a cell culture media, which is specifically formulated to include essential amino acids, vitamins, inorganic salts, glucose and proteins. The cell culture media also includes naturally occurring chemicals called growth factors, which help stimulate the cell growth process.
As the cells grow inside the bioreactor, they start to develop distinct characteristics and functions, in accordance with the media that engulfs them. This is called cell differentiation. For example, some stem cells develop into muscle cells while others develop into fat cells. Both cell types are necessary for the next steps of meat cultivation.
Structuring The Cells Together
Once the cells have matured, they are ready to be used to create the meat products that we are all familiar with. In this article, let’s focus on steak.
Many meat cultivation companies use the cells to create edible frames called scaffolds. The scaffolds are the structure of the cultivated steak. Once placed on a scaffold, the cells can continue to specifically develop into the tissue that is needed to generate a thick and juicy steak. A similar process can be used to create just about any kind of cultivated meat product that people love to eat. That being said, Steakholder Foods uses a different method to structure the cells together – but that’s subject for a different article.
How Is a Cultivated Steak Made?
So far, we’ve covered cell collection, growth, differentiation and structuring. We’re far from done, though. Now we can proceed to describe the process of bringing our cultivated steak to life. This is how we do it at Steakholder Foods:
Once we’ve cultivated cells, we can use them to formulate bio inks that will allow us to 3D-print the steak we want. Muscle cells are used to create muscle bio-inks, and fat cells transform into fat bio-inks.
Printing 3D Steaks
A data design file containing steak printing instructions, including the desired size, weight, muscle and fat percentage is fed into Steakholder Foods’s 3D bio-printer to print the 3D steak. Steakholder Foods’s end-to-end 3D printed steaks system contains multiple printheads that work in unison to precisely print cultivated steak at a fast pace, with the exact placement of fat and muscle as you’d find in a conventional steak.
After the product is printed, it is placed in an incubator in order to allow fat and muscle cells to mature into respective fat and muscle tissue. The temperature and humidity-controlled incubator offers an optimal environment for the tissue to form.
The Final Product
Once tissue is formed inside the incubator, we can say with confidence that the process is complete. Our cultivated steak is ready!
Turning the Vision of Cultivated Meat Into Reality
Cultivated meat is about more than just meat. It’s about changing the way meat is produced so that our planet can thrive and our animals can be spared from slaughter. Sure, there’s a long way to go, and once regulatory entities permit the selling of cultivated meat, there’s no doubt that the meat cultivation process will become even more effective and efficient. But the progress already made in the field of meat cultivation is staggering – and Steakholder Foods is proud to be one of the world’s leaders in this important revolution. There’s literally too much at stake – or perhaps we should say “steak” – for us to stop moving forward at full speed.