Aiming to reduce the resources needed to produce meat as well as shrink the environmental footprint caused by animal farming, scientists have been working to grow meat in the lab using animal cells.
But in order for the masses to consume cultured meat, it's going to have to have the same color, texture, and taste like real meat.
Scientists at the University of Tufts think they have found the answer, at least when it comes to the color and texture of the lab-grown meat. A team of researchers discovered that adding myoglobin, the iron-carrying protein to the cultured meat, it improves the growth, texture, and color of bovine muscle grown from the cells.
Cultured meat has to look like the real thing to take off
"Taste, color, and texture will be critical to consumer acceptance of cultured meat," said David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at the Tufts University School of Engineering and corresponding author of the study said in a press release highlighting the research. "If our goal is to make something similar to a steak, we need to find the right conditions for cells to grow that replicate the formation of natural muscle. The addition of myoglobin looks to be one more important addition to the recipe that brings us closer to that goal."
The researchers also tested adding the heme proteins to the cultured cells similar to what plant-based meat substitutes use but found myoglobin is better for promoting cell proliferation, aiding the cells in forming fibers and adding meatlike color to the cells.
"We knew that myoglobin has an important role to play in muscle growth, as it is one of the most abundant proteins in muscle cells" said first author of the study Robin Simsa, an industrial Ph.D. student from Europe who conducted the studies during his fellowship stay at the Tufts University School of Engineering. "It's possible that myoglobin is bringing oxygen to the cell's mitochondria, boosting their energy and helping them to proliferate. More than just an ingredient for color, iron content and potentially flavor, myoglobin could also be an important element in the scaled-up production of cell-based meat to increase cell yield.