From the meadow to the plate: could cultured grass-based meat replace animals?

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From the meadow to the plate: could cultured grass-based meat replace animals?

22 November 2021

An affordable laboratory system that uses blades of grass to turn cells into cultured meat has been developed at the University of Bath.

Aligned myotubes (columnar cells found in muscle fiber) growing on grass

Researchers at the University of Bath managed to collect grass from the university’s campus and used it to create a scaffold that animal cells can attach to and grow. The resulting tissue has the potential to be used both as laboratory meat and as human muscle tissue to repair or replace tissue that has been damaged or lost as a result of injury or illness.

The study, carried out by Dr Paul De Bank (Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology), Professor Marianne Ellis (Department of Chemical Engineering) and Scott Allan (doctoral researcher at the Center for Sustainable and Circular Technologies), is published in the Journal of Biomedical this month. Materials Research – Part A.

The first step in the new bioengineering process is to empty the grass blades of their native cells in a process known as decellularization. The decellularized slides are then inoculated with a set of cells derived from a mouse cell line (these cells would possibly be replaced by bovine stem cells). The introduced cells stick to the surface of the scaffold, multiply and form bonds with neighboring cells, eventually growing as a cell mass to form new 3D tissue.

Researchers face several challenges when looking for a suitable scaffold on which to build new muscle tissue. First, the scaffolding should be a cells can easily attach to the surface. It must then allow these cells to proliferate and align in a way that precisely mimics the fibers of the natural tissue that they replicate (along with muscle fibers, for example, all cells need to contract and contract. relax in tandem). Second, for scaling, the scaffolding must be cost effective and simple to manufacture. For laboratory meat, there is a third challenge: the scaffold must be edible for humans, even if it is not highly digestible (as is the case with grass).

The Bath project shows that blades of grass meet all the criteria.

Dr Paul De Bank, who led the research, said: “When we were looking for scaffolding for our cells, we wanted to find something that was both durable and edible. I thought of a natural decellularized material because cellulose (of which the grass is largely made up) is edible, but also because the grass has aligned grooves which I hoped would allow cells to s ‘line up to make the fibers we needed – and it worked! “

He added: “When we eat beef, we eat part of the grass that cows have grazed on in their lifetime. What’s interesting about our study is that it shows that we can directly replace animals with the grass they eat. Our system needs to be expanded, but hopefully as soon as possible we can have a grass-based meat product on the market.

The adhesion of animal stem cells to the surface of the grass was found to be around 35%, which is considered a good result. “Often, decellularized plant scaffolds have to be chemically altered for cells to grow on it. The great thing that we have found with the herb is that we get significant adhesion without further processing steps. said Dr De Bank, adding: “We hope, however, to find a way to increase this membership – we have a new PhD student who will be working on this topic, exploring ways to optimize cell attachment and growth.

The next big challenge will be to expand this process to generate sufficient amounts of cells and scaffolding material to produce a significant amount of muscle tissue. If this is successful, consumers may one day be able to purchase grass-raised meat in a conscious manner, without the environmental and animal welfare concerns many face today.

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