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.
While emerging fermentation-derived ingredient companies often optimize their strain’s productivity in-house, it may be more efficacious for startups to engage contract research organizations with both deep microbial strain development expertise and also intimate familiarity with the unique considerations of the alternative protein sector.
Open-access product formulation specifications could provide clear metrics and objectives for product developers on attributes like taste, price, nutrition, and ingredient ratios.
Plants can serve as expression platforms similar to microorganisms used as recombinant protein hosts. This may require minimal processing into value-added ingredients, such as egg and dairy functional proteins. Plants offer scalability with less need for expensive downstream purification to isolate proteins of interest from inedible or undesirable hosts.
Coordinated efforts to develop standardized, comprehensive research toolkits of meat-relevant species would exponentially accelerate cultivated meat research.
Open-access blueprints would provide a head start on facility design and allow equipment manufacturers and engineering companies to address standard industry needs.
Open-access research into growth factors required for proliferation, maintenance, and differentiation of cell types relevant to cultivated meat will support both academic and industry research efforts. This research could include screening of species-specific growth factors under a variety of conditions and in a variety of cell types to characterize cross-species compatibility, which informs commercial efforts to scale production of the most widely used growth factors. Research should also seek to define optimal concentrations of individual growth factors and cocktails for achieving various cell states or behaviors, as well as understanding interactions between growth factors.