A group of scientists claim that their “pioneering breakthrough” in stem cell research could ease the global sustainable food crisis.
They have developed a new technique to obtain and multiply pluripotent embryonic stem cells from cattle, sheep and pigs.
They believe this paves the way for future research into lab-grown meat production from a renewable stem cell source. The team views this as a “vital” step forward in pursuing sustainable agriculture.
For the first time, the research enables stem cells from these three important livestock animals to grow reliably.
Furthermore, the stem cells multiply in simple conditions without serum, feeder cells or antibiotics.
Stem cell research
Pluripotent stem cells are the ‘master cells’ found in the early development of all mammals. According to researchers, they have the potential to turn into all tissue cell types. This includes muscle and fat that make meat.
Existing techniques to cultivate stem cells use a basal medium – a “nutritional broth” – supplemented with calf serum, together with mouse cells.
However, researchers said the calf serum and feeder cells bring major disadvantages to efforts to adapt stem cell cultivation for biomanufacturing, including variability in composition, the risk of contamination, and the ongoing need for animals.
The researchers identified the precise chemically defined conditions required to maintain the stem cells and multiply them at scale for the new study.
They explained that the new technique is “simple, efficient and consistent” for all three animals. Therefore, they said it provides the “essential” starting point for developing new lab-grown food products.
They said animal stem cell technology also offers new opportunities for gene editing and cloning. It enables them to produce enhanced breeds that “could reproduce better and be more able to adapt to climate change and changes to diet”.
Revolutionise meat production
Professor Austin Smith from the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute led an international team of researchers.
The processor, who is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in stem cell research, said:
“It is very exciting that starting from a fundamental question about early development in different animals, we have discovered a technique that may revolutionise future production of meat.”
Professor Ramiro Alberio from University of Nottingham, who co-led the research, said:
“The ability to derive and maintain livestock stem cells under chemically defined conditions paves the way for the development of novel food products, such as cultured meat grown in the lab.”
“The cell lines we developed are a step-change from previous models. They have the unique ability to permanently grow to make muscle and fat,” Alberio concluded.