3D Printing Meat Using Plant Protein Scaffolds

The production of meat to satisfy the demands of a growing world population has environmental, health, and ethical concerns. 3D printing meat products have been proposed to address these concerns, and a team of researchers has investigated using plant protein scaffolds for 3D meat printing. Their findings are currently in the pre-proof stage in the journal Biomaterials.

Study: 3D-printable plant protein-enriched scaffolds for cultivated meat development. Image Credit: ANTSTUDIO/Shutterstock.com

Overcoming the Issues with Meat Production with Cultivated Meat

Cultivated meat addresses the issues with the meat industry by manufacturing sustainable muscle tissue that can be consumed by humans. The technology harnesses tissue engineering concepts and is a potential candidate for overcoming the ethical, health, and environmental issues that modern society’s growing consumption of animal meat products can cause. Other terms for cultivated meat include cell-based meat and cultured meat.

For the technology to become a viable alternative to conventional meat production from slaughtered animals, there needs to be significant research into developing appropriate tissue engineering techniques. Tissue engineering is a complex technology that aims to mimic complex natural tissues, and appropriate fabrication techniques, cell types, and scaffolding are needed to achieve this.

Selecting Scaffolds for Cultivated Meat

To replicate the conditions of the native cellular microenvironment, scaffold materials are integral to tissue engineering and, by extension, cultivated meat technologies. Selecting the appropriate scaffold material supports the adhesion, growth, proliferation, and differentiation of cell types. Moreover, they must possess suitable mechanical properties for the engineered tissue, and their structure must be porous to allow nutrient diffusion, cell migration, and waste disposal.

Cultivated meat has additional requirements that scaffold materials must meet to be considered viable for the technology. For instance, sufficient material transfer must occur in thick tissue constructs, which is essential for tissue survival. This is one of the key challenges with the successful manufacture of meat products, and so far this has made the production of cultivated meat that successfully mimics meat produced from slaughtered animals difficult.

3D Bio-Printing

Moreover, to successfully realize the potential of cultivated meat, appropriate fabrication methods must be selected. A method which has shown great promise in recent years is 3D bio-printing. 3D bioprinting techniques are repetitive and customizable and have the potential for industrial-scale production.

Printers used in this technique utilize bioinks, which are either materials that are found in the natural cellular environment or those that mimic it. Bioinks and cell types can be printed in a controlled manner and with predefined, complex spatial geometries. A key feature of cellular printing is its ability to print evenly distributed cells within fabricated scaffolds and, thus, overcome the cell-seeding challenges inherent to other fabrication technologies.

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Several studies have reported the successful engineering of tissue types, including skeletal muscle tissues and the manufacture of printed constructs with enhanced porosity. However, the technology is still in its infancy and much of the research has utilized either animal-derived or non-edible scaffold materials. Therefore, the need for alternative scaffold materials has driven research in recent years.

The Study

In the pre-proof study, researchers have investigated the use of different plant-based materials for cultivated meat bio-printing scaffolds. Several plant, alginate, and bacterial-derived materials have already been explored in previous research, highlighting their digestibility and nutritional profiles.

The authors harnessed the flexibility in biomaterials used for support bath fabrication. Two protein-polysaccharide compositions were used in the research to fabricate 3D-printed scaffold materials. These protein-rich isolates were used to support the cultivation of bovine cells. RGD-modified alginate was used as a stability and bioactivity-enhancing element in the bioprinted 3D scaffold materials.

Alginate was mixed with denatured soy and pea protein isolates. These isolates were used to enhance the nutritional profile of the printed scaffold materials, and the compositions were evaluated in a stepwise manner.

Firstly, bovine scaffold cell behavior was evaluated on mold-casted versions of the scaffold materials to assess their suitability. Then, an extrusion-based 3D-bioprinting method utilizing an agar support bath was developed by the researchers. Finally, the behavior of cells was evaluated, both seeded on or printed within constructs. Additionally, the applicability of the process to bovine mesenchymal cells was investigated.

The experimental and analytical results demonstrated that the plant-protein-based materials were suitable as scaffold constructs for flexible 3D bio-printing of cultivated meat. The materials possessed a suitable nutritional profile and the risk of allergic reactions was low, further demonstrating their suitability for use as edible scaffold materials for thick muscle tissue with multiple cell types.

The method presented in the research has the potential for the industrial-scale manufacture of 3D-bioprinted cultivated meat products that overcome the issues with traditional meat manufacture and can unlock promising new research potentials in the field.

Further Reading

Ianovici, I et al. (2022) 3D-printable plant protein-enriched scaffolds for cultivated meat development [online, pre-proof] Biomaterials 121487 | sciencedirect.com. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0142961222001260

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Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for News Medical represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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