The cost and environmental impact of cultivated meat are driven by the cell culture media formulation and its conversion efficiency into meat. Metabolic modeling and engineering techniques can aid media formulation and ensure its optimal use. Targeted optimization will improve the cost-competitiveness and sustainability of cultivated meat production.
Cell culture media
Efficient and cost-effective cultivated fish production will require precise optimization to encourage fast proliferation and highly efficient use of inputs while preventing premature differentiation. A variety of strategies can be employed to adjust various factors that contribute to these properties, including optimizing the starting cell line, improving the composition of the proliferation medium, and exploring the possibility of transdifferentiating easy-to-grow cell lines like fibroblasts into myogenic and adipogenic lineages.
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.
The cultivated meat industry needs dedicated suppliers of low-cost, food-grade cell culture media to reduce cultivated meat production costs. Close collaboration between the customer and supplier will be required in many cases due to the need for formulations to be optimized for specific cell lines.
The identification of non-animal, non-recombinant proteins with similar functionality to serum albumin and transferrin will lead to major cost reductions in cell culture media development, facilitating progress toward achieving price parity with cultivated meat.
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.
There is a need for a supplier of low-cost growth factors produced without the use of animals to support the proliferation phase of cultivated meat production. The cost of growth factor production will need to be brought down significantly as cultivated meat production is scaled up.
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.
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.