Scientists grow lab-grown fat to improve texture of artificial meat

It's almost as good as the real thing!
Loukia Papadopoulos
Lab-grown meat.jpg
Lab-grown meat.

Nataly Hanin/iStock 

Lab-cultured meat offers a great alternative to the real thing. However, in order to get the taste of real meat, researchers have to replicate the vascular network present in meat in order to grow muscle or fat to a significant size.

This is something that is difficult to do, but researchers may have found a solution, according to a press release published by eLife on Tuesday.

The scientists grew fat cells from mice and pigs first in a flat, two-dimensional layer, then harvested those cells and aggregated them into a three-dimensional mass with a binder such as alginate and mTG.

“Our goal was to develop a relatively simple method of producing bulk fat. Since fat tissue is predominantly cells with few other structural components, we thought that aggregating the cells after growth would be sufficient to reproduce the taste, nutrition and texture profile of natural animal fat,” said first author John Yuen Jr, a graduate student at the Tufts University Center for Cellular Architecture (TUCCA), Massachusetts, U.S.

 “This can work when creating the tissue solely for food since there’s no requirement to keep the cells alive once we gather the fat in bulk.”

Experimenting with fat

The resulting fat cells exhibited the appearance of fat tissue, so the researchers decided to undertake some experiments. They began by compressing the fat tissue to see how much pressure it could withstand compared to natural animal fat. 

They found that cell-grown fat bound with sodium alginate was able to withstand a similar amount of pressure to fat from livestock and poultry.

The team then proceeded to examine the composition of molecules from the cell-grown fat released during cooking. They found that the mix of fatty acids from cultured mouse fat differed from native mouse fat but that the cultured pig fat had a much closer fatty acid profile to the native tissue. 

“This method of aggregating cultured fat cells with binding agents can be translated to large-scale production of cultured fat tissue in bioreactors – a key obstacle in the development of cultured meat,” said in the statement senior author David Kaplan, Stern Family professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University and director of TUCCA. 

“We continue to look at every aspect of cultured meat production with an eye toward enabling mass production of meat that looks, tastes, and feels like the real thing.”

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