How To Scale Up Clean Meat Production
Clean meat – produced by growing meat from cell samples, instead of farming and slaughtering animals – needs to be available at a reasonable cost and in huge quantities to be able to replace farmed animals as a commercial source of meat.
The knowledge of clean meat’s many advantages over meat from farmed animals is motivating its development. The intensive farming of animals leads to human disease and antibiotic resistance. It pollutes and damages the environment, and involves the widespread abuse and neglect of animals. Clean meat removes most disease and animal welfare concerns, and the current belief is that large-scale production would have a huge positive impact on the environment.
The biomedical industry, particularly cell-based therapeutics (treatment in which cells are injected into patients), has already developed a lot of the essential technologies needed for clean meat, and these can be adapted for large-scale production. However, greater resources, as well as new methods and processes, will be needed to store and distribute all of the meat that is produced, until it reaches the consumer.
Using Cell Therapy Tools For Clean Meat Production
The process of creating meat is separated into two stages. In the first stage, the cells multiply, and in the second, they are put on frames, where they become different cell types, such as muscle and fat. This creates different types of meat. The time needed for a large batch production is estimated to be up to six weeks, and this could be shortened if cells can be semi-continuously fed into the system.
- Developing and storing cell lines: Cell lines consist of a set of identical cells, and by creating and storing stable cell lines, it will reduce the time taken and the cost to produce clean meat. This is because it will allow a constant supply of cells to be fed into the system, instead of starting from a single cell each time. It will also reduce contamination and inconsistency. The biologics industry (which produces vaccines and antibodies) has the experience to produce stable, long-lasting cell lines. Cell therapy research on stem cells that can turn into different cell types will be very useful to help create muscle. Established best practices, ways to speed up cell modification, screening of cells, and how to reduce the growth factor levels, can all be learned from these industries.
- Growing cells without using animal parts: Cells are grown in a cell culture medium, which is a liquid or gel that supports their growth. Hundreds of animal-free cell culture media are available because of the cell therapy industry, which needed media that were free from contamination and easy to reproduce. Finding out that cells can reproduce and form different types of cells in an animal serum-free media has transformed the clean meat industry, as it would have been impractical to get the amount of serum needed for large-scale production. Best practices for developing new media are available, which will help to expand existing media for different types of meat. Studies also show that supplements to the media can help cells to survive during production at a large scale. We can also find out what elements are slowing down the process, and change the formula of the media to improve cell growth.
- Frames or scaffolds to create different cuts of meat: Scaffolds are needed to provide a structure for complex products that look and behave like thick animal tissue. The scaffolds have to support different types of cells, such as muscle and fat, allow the media to go through the cells, and, if possible, help cells to change, to create a product that looks like meat. There are a lot of alternatives to animal-sourced scaffolding, and hydrogel scaffolds might be best, as they can change, and this can be reversed. So as the cells multiply, change and mature, the scaffold can also change, and other materials can be added to help with this process, as well as to add flavor and nutrition. Food-safe hydrogel scaffolds already exist, and now work needs to be done to make them part of the closed cell system, to avoid contamination.
- Bioreactors for large-scale production: A bioreactor is a closed cell culture system that enables cells and tissues to grow. Existing models of bioreactors can be used for large-scale clean meat production, although they will likely need improved filtration. Making the process automatic, which has been done to some extent already by the cell therapy industry, will help to prevent contamination and maintain consistency. The system can also be monitored and controlled by current methods. Bioreactors will need to be adapted to harvest and process meat automatically on a large scale.
How To Commercialize Clean Meat More Quickly
Processes and products for the storage, transport and distribution of clean meat will need to be developed specifically for this sector. Food safety authorities will need to create regulations, for cell culture media, and to allow the meat to be safely and quickly distributed and sold. A lot of these regulations will be similar to those for meat from farmed animals. However, clean meat isn’t contaminated with microbes, which is a major food safety advantage.
The companies working to commercialize clean meat were mostly set up in the last few years, so the clean meat industry hasn’t become very competitive yet. Additionally, they focus on different products , so the levels of different technologies needed also vary. This should allow clean meat companies to work with each other, as well as with academics and the cell therapy industry. Academics can focus on questions related to large-scale production. As other technology sectors have successfully shown, intellectual property can be pooled. There are many opportunities to collaborate with other industries for mutual benefit, and to make significant progress towards commercializing clean meat production.