Edible Scaffolds For Cultivated Meat With “Fibrous Qualities” Developed by Singapore Scientists

A research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has successfully used plant proteins from corn, barley, and rye flour to 3D-print edible scaffolds for the cultivated meat industry. 

Led by Huang Dejian, deputy head of the NUS Department of Food Science and Technology, the team claims the new development will help to accelerate the biomanufacturing process of cultivated meat. 

“By using readily available cereal prolamins as biomaterials for high-precision 3D printing technology, we open up a new method for manufacturing edible and structured scaffolds to produce cultured muscle meat slices with fibrous qualities,” Dejian said.

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3D-printed edible scaffolds

Scaffolds are three-dimensional constructs used in cultivated meat that provide structural support for cells to multiply and develop into tissues. But they are typically made from synthetic or animal-based materials, which are expensive and inedible.

“Scaffolds made from plant proteins are edible and have diverse and variable peptide sequences that can facilitate cell attachment, induce differentiation and speed up the growth of meat. In contrast, synthetic scaffolds such as plastic beads used for cultured meat have no functional group, which makes it difficult for animal cells to attach and proliferate. In addition, synthetic scaffolds are not edible and extra steps are required to separate the scaffolds from the meat culture,” Dejian explained.

The researchers used a 3D printing technology, commonly used in biomedical applications, to materialize the scaffolds. They used mixtures of prolamins (a family of plant storage proteins) for the inks, biodegradable and biocompatible with animal cells. These plant proteins are usually treated as waste in the starch and vegetable oil industries, making them a sustainable resource. 

A cultivated piece of pork by NUS scientists
Image credit: NUS

A proof of concept

As a proof of concept, the scaffolds were tested with pig stem cells to cultivate a piece of meat. They showed improved cell proliferation compared to standard scaffolds, potentially leading to a new, sustainable method for cultivating meat. 

“Within 12 days, the research team was able to culture meat that was similar in texture and overall appearance to real animal meat,” said NUS. 

To improve the technology, the team will further research the structure and composition of the prolamin constructs and their impact on the growth of animal stem cells and muscle tissue formation. 

“Moreover, we need to ensure the resulting meat products are market-ready, with safety profiles that will satisfy rigorous regulatory demands and nutritional compositions that will fulfill recommended dietary needs,” Dejian added.

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