The inclusion of fat and marbling in cultivated meat is likely to increase its flavor, texture, and consumer appeal. Structural approaches using edible microcarriers, hydrogels, and 3D bioprinting present promising options to support fat cell growth and reduce buoyancy in culture for integrating fat into cuts of meat, but more research is needed to optimize conditions.
Meticulous attention to sterility controls throughout cultivated meat production is essential to optimize food safety, but the cost of biopharmaceutical-based sterility—the current standard for cell-based processes—is incongruent with large-scale food production. Research to identify alternative sterility processes with lower costs is needed for cultivated meat to scale successfully.
A variety of plant-based scaffolds present the opportunity to combine the natural nutritional and structural benefits of plants with the taste and high protein of cultivated meat. Bacterial nanocellulose from coconut water is a particularly promising scaffold material with its FDA approval status and beneficial nutritional and cell adhesion properties.
Stretching of engineered muscle constructs has been previously demonstrated to induce alignment and maturation of muscle fibers, which is desirable for whole cut cultivated meat. Stretch stimuli could also be incorporated into a semi-continuous bioprocess in which a piece of tissue is expanded over time and portions of the tissue periodically harvested. The large amount of meat produced could offset the high initial cost of fabricating a construct capable of continuous growth.
Cultivated seafood will need to be supplemented with long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids to be nutritionally equivalent or superior to conventional seafood. However, how these compounds can best be incorporated has not been determined, and there are several potentially-viable strategies. Further research is needed to determine which strategies are most cost-effective and scalable and whether there are appreciable differences between methods in the quality of the final product.
The manufacturing capacity for rapid and cost-effective scale-up of alternative protein production is a current constraint on the growth of the industry. Repurposing and retrofitting stranded or underutilized assets such as shuttered bioethanol plants can help mitigate some of the financial hurdles and shorten the amount of time required for companies to expand production.
Both the cultivated meat industry and interested members of the general public would benefit from the creation of makerspaces focused on cultivated meat. These would be publicly available spaces where community members can learn, experiment, and work collaboratively on projects related to cultivated meat. Here, they would have access to the physical equipment necessary to conduct projects as well as technical assistance to inform them. The aim of this project is to encourage more interaction between the public and the alternative protein industry, thus stimulating the exploration and development of more ideas. Makerspaces could also promote greater understanding of and openness to cultivated meat among future consumers of the product.
Cultivated meat research focuses primarily on muscle fibers and fat cells. However, other cell types serve functions that are often under appreciated in their relevance to cultivated meat. Co-culture methods with various support cells could solve a variety of challenges on the road to developing affordable, high-quality cultivated meat.
Alternative protein companies would benefit from the availability of off-the-shelf or customizable bioreactors for cultivated meat and fermentation-derived products. This need could be filled by increased investment in and support of existing companies (see "Related Efforts"), creation of new companies, or strategic pivots by companies currently producing bioreactor technology for other applications.
Academic researchers or consortia consisting of several cultivated meat companies should undertake research aimed at understanding metabolic pathways and fluxes within cultivated meat-relevant cell types. The outputs of this research could be used to improve the efficiency of media optimization efforts and to enhance the organoleptic and nutritional properties of cultivated meat products.