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The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the U.S. has just awarded UC Davis a US$3.5 million five-year grant for cultivated meat research, marking the first major government grant in the country for research into cellular agriculture for more sustainable protein production. The project will see researchers from multiple disciplines come together to develop new potential routes to feed a rapidly growing population healthily, safely and sustainably.
Researchers from UC Davis in California have been awarded a US$3.5 million grant from the NSF. The project will be led by five principal investigators from different fields, including chemical engineering, physiology, biomedical engineering, animal science, and viticulture and enology, as well as eight collaborators from food science and agricultural economics departments to work on cultivated meat production.
Cultivated meat production, which involves growing real animal meat – muscle, fat, connective tissue cells – in large-scale fermentors (also known as bio-reactors) to produce a meat product that has the same nutritional and similar molecular structure as real meat, but requires far fewer resources to produce.
“It addresses the compelling and immediate societal problem of finding new potential routes toward feeding a rapidly growing global population with a nutritious and satisfying diet, while protecting our environment and limited resources,” the researchers wrote in their proposal.
Specifically, the UC Davis team will create an efficient way to amplify stem cells, which will be crucial for the industry to scale-up production, establish a way to differentiate cell lines using plant-based serum-free medium, create biomaterials that will enable the development of 3D tissue structures and finally, conduct a life-cycle analysis for this novel way to produce protein.
It addresses the compelling and immediate societal problem of finding new potential routes toward feeding a rapidly growing global population with a nutritious and satisfying diet, while protecting our environment and limited resources.
By the end of the project, the researchers hope to have established the scientific and engineering foundation for the currently still nascent cultivated meat industry, address the hurdles for the industry to reach commercialisation, as well as train future talent for the sector. In addition, UC Davis academics plan to conduct research into consumer acceptance of cultivated meat production.
The grant, which represents the first of such backed by the U.S. government, represents the shift in interest amongst experts and authorities in the food security solution that cultivated protein development will bring. It follows the announcement made by the USDA and FDA that the bodies will soon start the rule-making process for the sector.
As a safer, healthier and more sustainable method to produce protein, the sector has been increasingly viewed as a turnkey solution to bolster food security in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has exposed the vulnerability of traditional animal agriculture and other animal-dependent industries.
In Japan, where authorities have signaled that it will draw up rules and regulations for cultivated foods, grant money from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry was recently awarded to Tokyo-based food tech IntegriCulture to build its commercial production facility for cell-cultured products.
Lead image courtesy of Memphis Meat.