Students are building Brazil’s alternative protein ecosystem from all sides

The UFMG Alt Protein Project is introducing innovative alt protein solutions to diverse audiences across Brazil, from faculty researchers to eager middle schoolers.
The ufmg cultivated meat research team, led by dr.  luciana andrade and dr.  erika jorge

Brazil is primed for alt protein innovation

Brazil is a global leader in agribusiness and home to the world’s largest meat and ground beef companies. GFI Brazil works with these and other companies as well as the Brazilian government and scientists across the country to accelerate alternative protein science, entrepreneurship, and markets.

The Alt Protein Project (APP), our student-led global community, reached Brazil in 2023 and helped us strengthen the alternative protein ecosystem in the places that matter most. Around the world, APP student leaders are working to transform their universities into engines for alternative protein education, research, and innovation, and the students of the UFMG APP chapter in Brazil are no exception.

The UFMG Alt Protein Project

Throughout the winter semester of 2023, Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) students walking through the halls of the university’s Institute of Biological Sciences encountered a pleasant surprise: tables filled with food, free drawings for prizes, and a team of student leaders from the UFMG APP eager to chat with passersby.

The UFMG APP organized this recurring lunchtime event: “Segunda Sem Carne,” or “No Meat Mondays,” to introduce their university community to alternative proteins through delicious samples and casual yet informative conversations about the alt protein field and their research. The sessions were a success – attracting many students, faculty, and even secondary education teachers. But this is just one piece of the puzzle for the UFMG APP chapter.

The ufmg app team during their segunda sem carne tabling events.
The ufmg app team during their segunda sem carne tabling events.
The UFMG APP team during their Segunda Sem Carne tabling events.

Young and thriving

Still in its first year as an official Alt Protein Project Chapter, the UFMG APP is making great strides toward a thriving alternative protein ecosystem on its campus and beyond.

In addition to the successful “Segunda Sem Carne” tabling sessions, the chapter’s technical seminar series and recurring journal club introduced many of their fellow UFMG undergraduates and graduate students to the world of alternative proteins. But they’re not stopping there.

Co-founders and presidents Jorge Guadalupe and Ítallo Augusto, alongside education director Julia Nogueira, worked throughout their first year as a chapter to bolster alt protein education at UFMG, seeing it as the crucial next step towards bringing alt protein awareness to the diverse groups that make up their community.

The UFMG APP chapter strives to introduce more students and faculty to alternative proteins through their upcoming course: “Cellular Agriculture with Focus on Cultivated Meat.” Thanks to the UFMG APP’s work, 24 fortunate UFMG students and several faculty members will be among the first in the country to officially engage with alternative proteins in the classroom, through both theoretical and technical classes. The semester-long course will cover a wide range of scientific topics, including “cell culture, cell isolation, and immortalization, bioprocessing, [and] scaffolding,” alongside a few lectures on the growing market of the cultivated meat field.

The course will also feature several interactive components: labs on cell culture, scaffolding, and 3D printing and a competitive “Shark-tank style” pitching contest, where students will develop their start-up ideas and present them to a panel of key industry stakeholders. The UFMG APP team integrated these hands-on components to not only engage students more but to also encourage and equip students from any background to take their education one step further. The industry and research-focused activities will give students the technical knowledge and the motivation to kickstart innovative new research alongside existing and new faculty researchers.

– Jorge Guadalupe, Co-founder and President of the UFMG APP Chapter

Students enrolled in the course will hear from many experts within the cultivated meat field, such as Dr. Luciana Andrade and Dr. Erika Jorge, two UFMG faculty members who received a GFI grant for their research on cultivated chicken, and several of the UFMG APP student leaders. However, the course will also feature lectures from many UFMG faculty members in outside departments, such as morphology and biochemistry.

By bringing in experts from outside the alternative protein ecosystem, the team hopes to showcase the interdisciplinary nature of the field and encourage the professors to begin new research within the alternative protein field. “Maybe it could be the little push they need to start a research project in cultivated meat,” suggested Ítallo.

Given how instrumental Dr. Andrade and Dr. Jorge were to many of the UFMG APP member’s research journeys, the APP team knows just how impactful faculty champions are for the alt protein ecosystem. More UFMG faculty members researching alt proteins means more university-wide support for alt proteins and, of course, more research opportunities for students.

The ufmg cultivated meat research team, led by dr. Luciana andrade and dr. Erika jorge
The UFMG cultivated meat research team, led by Dr. Luciana Andrade and Dr. Erika Jorge, and including many UFMG APP student leaders!

Going further together

Such an innovative new course would not have been possible without the support of Dr. Andrade and Dr. Jorge. According to the UFMG APP team, it was the combination of Dr. Andrade and Dr. Jorge’s technical expertise and position of authority within the university, alongside the APP student leaders’ enthusiasm and diligence which allowed for such quick development and university acceptance of their upcoming course.

Like many professors, Dr. Andrade and Dr. Jorge had the expertise but not the time to develop a new course. Meanwhile, the UFMG APP team had the energy and team to develop a course but lacked the necessary connections with university administration. With Dr. Andrade and Dr. Jorge serving as the course’s head professors and vouching for the course to university administrators, and the UFMG APP students diligently designing the course syllabus, inviting guest lecturers, and developing lectures of their own, their team finally had all the pieces to the puzzle.

Through this faculty-student partnership, both sides’ respective strengths and assets came together to make the course a reality this upcoming semester.

“If [the professors] wanted to create a course by themselves, they would bear all the responsibilities. But now that they have shiny-eyed students, we can take their hands and they can take ours, and we can walk together.”

– Jorge Guadalupe, Co-founder and President of the UFMG APP Chapter

Building the next generation of innovators

The UFMG APP team’s educational goals don’t stop with university students and faculty. The UFMG APP team is currently making alternative protein curricula for audiences as young as middle school.

While the task of creating lessons that are accessible and engaging for younger students was initially daunting, the team received positive feedback from their recent workshop and collaboration with Clubes de Ciencia Brasil. Julia recounted that the 90 high school students who attended the workshop bombarded the team with thoughtful questions after their presentation, asking about “environmental impact, [their] work in the labs, [their] academic journeys” and even the big question: “how can I become a scientist?”

As for their middle school outreach, the team was approached by a middle school teacher who is eager to bring alt proteins into her classroom this April. They are now in the midst of brainstorming creative ways to introduce alternative proteins to middle school students, from colorful papier-mâché-cells to popsicle-stick-scaffolding. Despite all the other projects on the UFMG APP team’s plate, they see youth education as a worthwhile investment.

– Julia Nogueira, education director of the UFMG APP chapter

Laying the foundation

The UFMG APP chapter laid strong groundwork for the Brazilian alt protein ecosystem in just one year, bringing in new alt protein stakeholders from a wide range of demographics– middle and high school students, undergraduates and graduate researchers, and university faculty members and researchers.

Their chapter initiatives showcase the interconnectedness of the alt protein field and exemplify the Alt Protein Project’s core objectives: awareness, community, education, research, and innovation. Each of these components needs the others to thrive.

Without education, there is no awareness. Without awareness, there is no research. And without young students asking, “How can I become a scientist?” no alternative protein researchers are working towards a global food system that is sustainable, secure, and just.

Alt protein project

Join a global group of changemakers

Do you want to join the UFMG APP team in bringing alt protein awareness, community, education, research, and innovation to your university? Applications for the 2024 cohort of the Alt Protein Project are open now.


Hanna barlow


Hanna works with GFI’s university innovation team to support The Alt Protein Project. Areas of expertise: food systems and justice, environment, community-building, curriculum development, and improvisation