Scientists from Osaka University have manufactured the world’s first 3D-printed Wagyu beef by using stem cells isolated from Japanese cattle, according to a press release. The product looks like a realistic steak piece containing muscle, fat, and blood vessels.
Because of its high marble content, Wagyu (Japanese cow) beef is one of the most sought-after and expensive meats in the world. Marbling, or sashi in Jaoan, refers to the visible layers of intramuscular fat that give the beef its rich flavors and distinctive texture, and because most cultured meats produced thus far resemble mince composed of simple muscle fibers rather than the complex structure of real beef steaks, 3D printing Wagyu is an extremely difficult feat.
The team of researchers was able to replicate this special quality of the meat using a special technique, and their findings could pave the way for a more sustainable future with widely available cultured meat.
Bioprinting the beef
The researchers used two types of stem cells, bovine satellite cells and adipose-derived stem cells, insulated from Wagyu cows, according to the paper published in the journal Nature Communications. Then, they incubated and coaxed the cells into becoming the various cell types required to generate individual fibers for muscle, fat, and blood vessels. These were piled into a 3D stack to resemble the marbling of Wagyu.
Then, the researchers adapted a technique inspired by the one used to produce Japanese Kintaro candy, an old traditional sweet formed in a long pipe and cut into slices. The stacks were sliced perpendicularly to form lab-grown beef slices, which allowed a great degree of customization within the complex meat structure.
This was how they were able to mimic the famous texture of Wagyu. According to the researchers, the synthetic meat "looks more like the real thing" and the process can be used to create other complex structures.
"By improving this technology, it will be possible to not only reproduce complex meat structures, such as the beautiful sashi of Wagyu beef, but to also make subtle adjustments to the fat and muscle components," senior author Michiya Matsusaki said.
The team gave no indication of how much the steaks would cost to produce or how long it would take to get them to market, but it certainly sounds promising.
The cell-based meat industry could be worth $20 million by 2027, according to Markets and Markets. If such projects can disrupt the food supply chain, the 3D printing revolution may one day eliminate the need to source meat from the cattle, paving the way for a new, more sustainable way to enjoy meat in the future.