Researchers at the University of Tokyo are reporting that they’ve created an innovative biofabrication of bovine muscle tissue in a laboratory that may help meet escalating future demands for dietary meat. They say that their work is borne, in part, out of the perception that growing urbanization and population sprawl is threatening the viability of animal husbandry over the long term and could put land and water costs out of the reach of the traditional livestock industry. They also admit that their work is in response to the growing voices of animal-rights activism.
The Tokyo research believe that they are tapping into a solution for future meat needs for a human population that consists largely of omnivores and that has featured meat in various forms throughout history.
Tissue engineering of cultured meat is under development at several centers worldwide. However, most biosynthetic meat products are amorphous or granular-like minced meat, lacking the grain and texture of real animal flesh. Mai Furuhashi, lead author, explains their novel process. The work was published in the journal Nature.
“Using techniques developed for regenerative medicine, we succeeded in culturing millimeter-sized chunks of meat wherein alignment of the myotubes help mimic the texture and mouthfeel of steak,” Furuhashi said. “For this, myoblasts drawn from commercial beef were cultured in hydrogel modules that could be stacked allowing fusion into larger chunks. We determined the optimal scaffolding and electrical stimulation to promote contractility and anatomical alignment of the muscle tissue to best simulate steak meat.”
Lead author, Yuya Morimoto, describes the synthesized product. “Our morphological, functional and food feature analyses showed that the cultured muscle tissue holds promise as a credible steak substitute. Breaking force measurements showed that toughness approached that of natural beef over time. Significantly, microbial contamination was undetectable; this has implications for cleanliness, consumer acceptability and shelf-life.”
“Our method paves the way for further development of larger portions of realistic cultured meat that can supplement or replace animal sources,” claims Shoji Takeuchi, senior and corresponding author. “However, there is a long way to go before lab-grown meat is indistinguishable from the real thing and hurdles concerning consumer acceptance and cultural sensibilities are overcome. Nevertheless, this innovation promises to be a green and ethical alternative to animal slaughter in meeting our need for dietary meat.”