Apart from being a vital source of protein, most of us are addicted to the taste of meat. In addition to more and more people taking a stance against animal cruelty, it is not a secret that the rate at which we consume meat is actually bad for our planet. Livestock raised for food produces approximately 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the land required for raising livestock has caused massive deforestation all around the world. In the Amazon alone, it is estimated that 80% of all deforestation is used for raising livestock. Could lab-grown meat be the solution to all of this? Researchers at Harvard believe they have found a way to make lab-grown meat one step closer to replacing the real thing.
Researchers believe that they have found a way to grow skeletal muscle tissue as long thin fibers, like it occurs naturally in the muscles. This should make it possible for lab-grown meat to be more realistic compared to what is currently being grown. Up until now, mimicking that fiber structure has been one of the hurdles that lab-grown meat has been facing. However, it is not as simple as growing them in petri dishes. Growing meat in this fashion requires a certain medium that the muscle cells can hold on to as they grow. This material needs to be edible, something the cells can easily latch onto and cheap enough to produce. Enter gelatin. The scientists at Harvard managed to spin gelatin into fibers using a technique called ‘immersion rotary jet spinning’. They found the finished product to be similar to that of the supportive extracellular matrix of natural muscle tissues. The researchers then grew rabbit and cow muscles on these gelatin fibers that showed real promise. The texture they achieved was quite similar to that of real meat, although they did not contain as many muscle fibers as natural meat.
So Near and Yet So Far
Even though the future looks promising for lab-grown meat, we are yet to clear a few hurdles to sustainably manufacture them to a point that it becomes an off-the-shelf product. At this point in time, the energy that is required to grow muscle tissue on an industrial scale would use as much, if not more energy compared to raising livestock. Which means, if we do not figure out a way to make the process more energy efficient, the emissions produced would be no different than that of traditional meat production. Another challenge scientists are facing is figuring out how to grow meat without using animal serums. FBS (Fetal Bovine Serum) for an example, the most common serum in use, comes from the blood drawn from bovine fetuses of slaughtered cows. Not so animal friendly after all! Meat is more than just muscle – the taste that most people are accustomed to comes equally from the fat in the meat as much it does from the muscle. Hence, making it taste as good as natural meat is one more hurdle, that scientists are hoping to overcome.
An Uphill Battle
Technical challenges aside, for lab-grown meat to succeed, we will have to find a way to overcome the threats posed by industrial livestock companies. Maybe, the answer lies in making it possible for such companies to get behind the idea as well. Then there also is the challenge of public opinion towards an artificially grown alternative to a natural food. Will people be open to make it a part of their daily diet? With all that being said, lab-grown meat is still very much a work-in-progress with somewhat of a fuzzy future.
There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel
We are in a race. A race to feed 10 billion mouths by 2050. Conventional, good old ways of producing the food we eat only seem to slow us down. Hence, we turn towards technology to help us win the race. From radically new automated farming techniques using hydroponics and artificial lighting to lab-grown proteins, FoodTech has opened up new avenues for us to explore.
At Texus, we are already revolutionizing one end of the spectrum. Our innovative supply chain solutions are reshaping the food prep and delivering spaces for good. We are not done yet. Our team is hacking the other end of the spectrum with their ingenuity, as we are already working on some exciting new farming techniques of our own.