Interdisciplinary research is essential for tackling many of the complex problems facing today’s world. Though the number of research projects advancing alternative protein science has increased in recent years, this research has been conducted in a largely disjointed fashion with few centralized hubs for coordination. The field would benefit from dedicated interdisciplinary research centers to drive the science and technology needed to address our unsustainable food and agriculture system. University centers of excellence are essential to rallying researchers and industry partners to tackle complex questions facing the alternative protein field today.
To ensure a strong talent pipeline, there is a need to launch robust university programming, ranging from certificate programs to short multi-course modules, centered around alternative protein. Full majors would include food science and other enabling sciences that help propel alternative protein food technology forward, as well as interdisciplinary coursework providing historical, economic, and philosophical context for food technology. Shorter multi-course modules and non-major certificate programs (like minors) could focus on enabling sciences, interdisciplinary background subjects, and/or business strategies for transforming our food system.
There is a significant and urgent need to launch and support university and online courses in order to build and extend the talent pipeline of students going into the alternative protein industry. Coursework can range from introductory to highly specialized, and will ideally be focused specifically on alternative proteins, but support for degree programs in enabling sciences will also be useful to the industry. A platform for sharing curriculum across institutions will empower new entrants to more easily build their own alternative protein courses.
Fibers from non-traditional texturization techniques like electrospinning, jet spinning, or blow spinning could impart texture throughout a product even if they don’t comprise the bulk of the end product, which may render these approaches economically viable for enhancing texture within a bulk product even at a relatively small scale.
Improving methods for adapting cells to suspension culture can facilitate cell line development and bioprocess design for cultivated meat.
Universities are epicenters for creative problem-solving and cutting-edge research advancements, and they can serve as engines for interdisciplinary innovation. However, this potential is not being tapped fully by the alternative protein industry. University student groups at key universities can foster robust, in-person communities for students and researchers interested in elevating the profile of alternative proteins within the academy. This will generate a talent pipeline of informed and empowered young people poised to enter the sector after their education while simultaneously spurring greater awareness and involvement among established faculty members.
Species-specific genomic studies enabling assay development for regulatory standards and cell line optimization
A suite of assays and genomic knowledge exists for humans and commonly used laboratory species such as mice or fruit flies. However, the same species-specific infrastructure does not exist equally across the species used in cultivated meat, with an especially large gap in seafood species. Commercialized, standardized assays for species identification such as Short Tandem Repeat (STR) or Cytochrome C Oxidase I (COI) assays are needed. Additionally, richer genetic datasets, including thorough genome annotations that facilitate identification of safe harbor loci, can broadly accelerate cell line optimization studies.
Improving our understanding of the relative advantages and disadvantages of different cell types for cultivated meat would enable companies to make these decisions more effectively with less duplicative effort.
Stem cells secrete a variety of signaling factors that can influence the behavior of surrounding cells, known as paracrine signals. In high-density bioprocesses, these secreted factors can accumulate to concentrations that can dramatically influence productivity and behavior of neighboring cells. By mapping the secretome of animal myoblasts, adipocytes, and other stem cells used for cultivated meat, a better understanding of which factors influence proliferation, differentiation, and other cellular traits can be obtained. Mapping efforts will inform how to best leverage this knowledge to improve cultivated meat production.
Crop plants used as recombinant protein production hosts could offer benefits of minimal processing, cheaper equipment, and fewer downstream purification costs.