Lab-grown meat now mimics muscle fibres like those found in steak

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A few millimetres of steak-like beef has been grown in a lab

Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo

Artificial steak is a step closer. Researchers have created a small sample of cultured meat that mimics the structure of real muscle, which is key to creating large pieces of meat, rather than just mince, with a realistic texture.

Many researchers are working to develop lab-grown meat, partly to reduce the environmental impact of meat production, and partly because of ethical concerns about the treatment of livestock animals. While some use plant-based materials to mimic meat, others aim to grow animal cells in culture to create true artificial meat.

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So far, artificial meat does not reproduce the structure of real meat. It is missing the complex layers of muscle, fat and sinew. The result is mince that can be used to make burgers, like the artificial burger famously cooked at a press conference in 2013. Now, researchers are attempting to make something that mimics a steak or chop.

A team led by Shoji Takeuchi at the University of Tokyo in Japan hasve now found a new way to grow cow muscle cells in culture. The cells arrange themselves into long strands, resembling real muscle fibres. “We have developed steak meat with highly aligned muscle fibres that are arranged in one direction,” says Takeuchi.

When the cultured cells were stimulated with electricity, the strands contracted, mimicking the way muscle fibres contract. That suggests the texture will be similar to that of beef, hopefully meaning people will be more willing to eat it.

The next step will be to grow larger chunks. The pieces produced so far weigh a few grams, and Takeuchi wants to get that up to 100g. “We will also introduce other tissues such as fat and blood vessels to make the meat more realistic,” he says.

Nobody has tried eating the new cultured meat. “We are in the process of consulting with the university’s ethics committee in order to eat and evaluate the products,” says Takeuchi. The lab is collaborating with Nissin Foods, a Japanese company that makes instant ramen noodles, to bring the cultured meat to market.

Journal reference: Science of Food, DOI: 10.1038/s41538-021-00090-7

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