Spinach skeleton becomes base for lab-grown meat

Spinach could be the ideal scaffold for cultured meat.

Boston College researchers have found yet another outside-the-box way to get meat.

In 2017, they stripped away the plant cells on a spinach leaf and grew beating heart tissue on the skeleton of plant veins that remained.

Now, they’ve used one of those spinach skeletons as an edible scaffold for lab-grown meat.

Lab-Grown Meat

Interest in meat alternatives has soared, as people look for more humane, sustainable ways to satisfy their cravings for beef, fish, and chicken.

While some startups are developing meatier plant-based products, others are experimenting with lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat.

Because these foods are grown from animal muscle cells, they’re molecularly identical to meat that comes directly from livestock — that makes them a better flavor match than anything made from plants.

One of the challenges to growing meat in the lab, though, is that the cells need something to grow on.

“Muscle cells are anchorage dependent, meaning they need to grab on to something in order to grow,” researcher Glenn Gaudette said in a news release.

Some scientists are experimenting with scaffolds made of gelatin, while others are using soy proteins. However, there isn’t yet any sort of consensus on what makes the best base for lab-grown meat — we need something cheap, easily scalable, and, most importantly, edible.

Now, Boston College is throwing spinach skeletons into the mix.

Plant Power

The plant cells were first removed from the spinach leaves using detergents — that part was straightforward since the researchers had already done it for their heart muscle study.

The spinach skeletons were then seeded with cells sourced from cow tissue. At 14 days, more than 98% of the cells were still viable, and they’d differentiated into muscle mass.

This demonstrates that spinach skeletons could be a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly base for lab-grown meat, the researchers write in their study — but they aren’t done experimenting just yet.

“We need to scale this up by growing more cells on the leaves to create a thicker steak,” Guadette said. “In addition, we are looking at other vegetables and other animal and fish cells.”

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Related
Boosted Breeding and beyond: 3 tech trends that could end world hunger
A world without hunger is possible, and the development and deployment of new farming technologies could be one key to manifesting it.
Desalination could avert one of the top 10 threats facing the world
Desalination — changing seawater into safe drinking water — could avert a crisis. Here’s how to make it less costly and labor-intensive.
Six innovative ways to float skyscraper-sized wind turbines
While most offshore wind farms are firmly rooted in the seabed, engineers are developing new ways to float enormous wind turbines.
This startup is trying to solve lab-grown meat’s biggest problem
A biotech startup has developed a new kind of bioreactor that could help increase cultivated meat production.
Scientists have invented a method to break down “forever chemicals” in our drinking water
Researchers have discovered a way to eliminate “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, which usually take hundreds or thousands of years to break down.
Up Next
wave energy
Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories