Scientists at Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture (TUCCA) have developed a breakthrough in the field of cellular agriculture, which involves growing meat in bioreactors. The challenge has been to produce enough muscle cells from a range of food sources to meet the growing demand for meat. TUCCA’s researchers have successfully created immortalized bovine muscle stem cells (iBSCs) that can divide hundreds of times and potentially indefinitely, offering significant advantages over normal muscle stem cells that can only divide around 50 times before becoming non-viable.
The breakthrough, published in ACS Synthetic Biology, means that researchers and companies worldwide can now access these immortalized cells and develop new products without repeatedly sourcing cells from live animals. By providing these cells to researchers and companies, the hope is to lower the barrier to entry into the field and encourage the exploration of ways to reduce costs and overcome the challenges of scaled-up production.
The researchers overcame two key challenges to develop the iBSCs. Firstly, they engineered the cells to constantly rebuild their telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that can degrade and cause cells to die as they divide and age. Secondly, they made the cells produce a protein that stimulates cell division, effectively turbocharging the process and helping the cells grow faster.
While the new stem cells differentiated into mature muscle cells, they were not entirely identical to animal muscle cells or muscle cells from conventional bovine stem cells. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that the cells may be mature enough to replicate the texture and flavor of natural meat.
Concerns have been raised about the safety of ingesting immortalized cells, but the researchers note that by the time the cells have been harvested, stored, cooked, and digested, there is no viable path to continued growth. Like natural meat, the cells become inert material that is hoped to be nutritious and delicious.
Source: Tufts University