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Scaffolds developed for terrestrial species will very likely support the attachment of fish cells given zebrafish express a similar complement of extracellular matrix proteins to mammals. Notably, the stiffness of the extracellular matrix influences the fate of differentiating cells, so fish cells might require scaffolds of different stiffness in order to guide them down the correct developmental trajectory. Even if fish cells are able to differentiate correctly, scaffolds designed for terrestrial meat might not recapitulate the sensory attributes of conventional fish. Addtionally, the lower melting temperature of fish collagen contributes to the flaky texture of cooked fish. Along with unique considerations related to scaffolding materials, fish scaffolds will require tailored strategies when it comes to how those materials are structured.
Existing scaffolding materials and, if necessary, additional materials of different stiffness, should be tested for their ability to support differentiation and maturation of fish cells. In order to produce products that respond properly when cooked, scaffolds should be formulated using recombinant fish collagen, other materials with similar thermal properties, or materials that degrade over time and are replaced by native extracellular matrix proteins. Additional research should address the question of how scaffolding materials can be structured to accurately reproduce 3D fish tissue.
The “chevron” pattern of fish muscle arises during development as a result of differentials in friction along the axis of each myotome. It might be possible to recapitulate this process during differentiation and maturation by starting from a scaffold made of flat layers. The 3D structure of fish muscle features greater separation of cell types relative to most terrestrial meats, with fat cells primarily located in the myosepta, as well as spatial separation of muscle fiber types into red and white muscle. These characteristics should be recapitulated via non-homogenous cues, including stiffness, surface patterning, and/or molecular cues, within the scaffold structure.
Appropriate scaffolds for fish will substantially impact the quality of the cultivated fish products available on the market and therefore uptake by consumers. Having high-quality, whole fillets on the market sooner will help mitigate the risk of cultivated seafood stagnating at a point where unstructured products are widely available, but unable to substantially replace demand for conventional whole-cut products. The scaffolding challenge ought to be addressed by both academia and industry. Open-access research can establish best practices and provide a solid foundation of viable strategies for the industry to build upon. This will provide an opportunity for companies to develop IP centered around scaffolds that produce the most delicious product possible at the lowest possible cost. In this way, the early research will raise the bar for the types of competition we will see within the industry.
Previous research on scaffolding for terrestrial meat:
- Orellana et al. 2020
- MacQueen et al. 2019
- Campuzano and Pelling 2019
- Ben-Arye et al. 2020
- Enrione et al. 2017
- Verbruggen et al. 2018
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