If you are interested in the science behind cell-based meat, here are some excellent resources to investigate further.
A good starting point for learning the science behind cell-based meat are the websites of two non-profit think-tanks The Good Food Institute (GFI) and New Harvest. They have a range of resources from simple graphic diagrams and animations, to summaries of and links to real research papers. Next, check out the websites of the start-up companies themselves. You can access these via our Companies page. This useful animation by Mosa Meat is excellent and actually describes the process behind the first cell-based hamburger made in 2013.
While this is basically a proof of concept, showing how a muscle cell taken from living tissue can be prompted to replicate and form muscle meat in a lab, it is a long way from the science needed to produce saleable meat at scale. To do that, GFI identifies 4 main areas that researchers need to concentrate on.
Cell lines – Coming up with the best cell lines for each species – those that proliferate and differentiate most stably and efficiently in a large scale production environment.
Cell culture media – Producing cost effective, animal-free media which contains the optimum mixture of basal nutrients like salts, lipids, sugars and amino acids but also the magic growth factors that tell cells how to behave and when.
Scaffolding platforms for 3D tissue structure – Designing an edible or biodegradable matrix to support the tissue’s growth into meat like structures by providing a substrate and a means for media to flow through and reach cells.
Bioreactor and bioprocess design – Designing industrial scale, energy and resource efficient bioprocessing systems that allow for the optimal proliferation of cells and perfusion of media while the cells are maturing.
The following resources discuss these areas more closely and are loosely ordered in increasing complexity and depth.
- A Massive Science Report called You Are What You Meat has 9 articles around cell-based meat. It was put together with the help of New Harvest. The first three articles discuss the reasons for cell-based meat, the next three look at what meat itself is and the final three describe how cell-based meat is made. The article How do we make cultured meat? hones in on the science most specifically.
- A 2017 report on emerging research areas by GFI scientists – This report presents a mind map of the areas needing development as at mid 2017. The four scientific areas and one based on supply and distribution are covered.
- A 2018 peer reviewed paper by GFI scientists – This paper looks at the (publicly known) state of the cell-based meat field, as at the end of 2017. Section 2 takes a more detailed look at possible approaches to the above 4 challenges.
- Part IV of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered by GFI – Going into greater depth again, this entails a half hour lecture covering some of the processes involved in cell-based meat, as well as prescribed reading and an assignment to complete.
- Elliot Swartz's 2017 blog post – This is an in-depth analysis of everything about cell-based meat including the 'why', the 'how' and all the possible impacts, implications and challenges. The 'how', or the science behind it, is explained in great detail and assumes reasonable scientific knowledge.
- Elliot Swartz and GFI's 2019 Reddit/Futurology series on cell-based meat science – Elliot now works for GFI as an Academic Research Advisor and with them, is presenting a monthly series covering 6 sub-topics, with the first one 'Cell Lines', just released. This series is aimed at people with scientific backgrounds eager to know more about the science and technology behind cell-based meat. Elliot has also re-published this information on his personal blog, with figures and tables more readily viewable.
- Robert Yaman's Blog on the Patent Landscape – This is a review of publicly available patent applications. As Robert explains, these do not necessarily reflect what is happening right now as the patent process is slow – what is released to the public could have been filed up to 18 months earlier. The patents Robert reviews cover bioreactor design, bioprinting of muscle tissue, media recycling, alternatives to growth factors, immortalizing cell lines, co-culturing cell types and more. It really highlights how different organisations are taking vastly different approaches. There are links to the patents for those with more scientific understanding. Because there are so many more companies involved now than 18 months ago, expect more patents to be released in the coming months/years. *Robert's review is a personal analysis only and not to be used in lieu of advice from a patent lawyer*
- An additional, but not yet available, resource will be the future findings of some GFI funded cell-based meat research projects. The organisation has just awarded grants for six, two-year long projects which will look at different aspects of cell-based meat science. GFI aims to provide the public with regular updates, however the crux of the science will not be available until the papers are officially published.
To further support the sharing of cell-based (and plant-based) meat technology, GFI has started a new Twitter feed @GoodFoodScience. This is where they will announce the release of each Reddit series instalment and presumably talk about the grant research updates. Definitely a good idea to follow GFI on all platforms if the science is what you're interested in.