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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
13 October 2022
A meaty breakthrough for Scots researchers

Cultivated pork

A meaty breakthrough for Scots researchers

Researchers from Roslin Technologies and the University of Edinburgh have developed a new approach to pig cell generation in what is being called a major step forward for lab-grown meat.

With support from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), the researchers' new approach eliminates variations in how different batches of cells grow. It has also cut the cost of cell culture media – a solid, liquid, or semi-solid designed to support the growth of a population of microorganisms or cells – by 61 per cent.  

It is hoped that this approach could be scaled-up for use in industry-sized bioreactors. The technology makes a type of stem cell from a small amount of animal tissue. The cells are self-renewing and can be utilised to grow different types of tissue, such as muscle and fat.  

Researchers believe that lab-grown meat will be a key way to decarbonise the food production system while meeting the protein needs of a rapidly increasing population. The current process struggles to scale-up, however, the new process, which is considered to be much more cost-effective, will now be able to increase production from a 500-millilitre bioreactor to 5 litres. It is thought that, eventually, it could produce up to 2,000 litres – a similar size to the equipment used for commercial-scale production of cultivated meat.

Dr Karen Fairlie-Clarke, innovation and engagement manager at Roslin Technologies, said: “The project outputs are a big step towards using our cells and media for the production of cultivated meat at scale. The proof of concept has shown that costs can be reduced, batch-to-batch variation reduced, and now in partnership with cultivated meat producers, we can take the findings forward to larger bioreactors and begin the process of scaling up to industry standards.

“While there is still further to go to meet parity with the economics of livestock products, we are taking steps to get there by addressing the production challenges facing the cultivated meat sector. Once the ability to scale has been proven, the next stage is product development and validation before further refining the media to be food grade.”

Leonardo Rios Solis, senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle and honorary lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, commented: “Our project represents a huge step forward in selecting the right cells that will grow in the way required for scale, consistency, and the necessary food standards. It is vital to understand the engineering parameters of cell growth and we have managed to determine the right conditions through this initiative.”

Dr Liz Fletcher, director of business engagement and operations at IBioIC, added: “Making fundamental changes to the way we produce and consume food will be a critical part of how we make the sector more sustainable and feed the world’s growing population. It is highly encouraging that research taking place in Scotland is at the vanguard of developing solutions to that challenge, potentially creating a more efficient sector that does not rely on raising animals. This is another great example of what combining industry nous with our world-class universities can achieve through collaboration.”

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