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Study points the way to food made from livestock stem cells

In a first, researchers have developed stem cell lines from pigs, sheep and cattle, laying the groundwork for the manufacture of cultured meat.

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In a world facing a growing human population and a warming climate, lab-grown meat – cultured meat – has clear advantages. It requires much less land, uses less water and generates less pollution. However, despite decades of effort, scientists have struggled to create stable cultures of stem cells from farm animals in order to produce such meat. For the first time, a research team has succeeded in collecting stem cells from livestock and growing them under chemically defined conditions. Supported in part by the EU-funded PLASTINET project, the research is laying the foundations for cultured meat production and the breeding of enhanced livestock.

A better option for cultured food products

As described in the study published in the journal ‘Development’, the scientists were able to develop stem cell lines from the embryos of pigs, sheep and cattle cultured in vitro without using feeder cells, serum or serum replacement. In in vitro cell culture, an animal serum such as foetal bovine serum is normally added to the basal medium as a source of nutrients. However, such serum is chemically undefined, varies in composition from batch to batch and carries a risk of contamination. By rejecting the use of foetal bovine serum and instead opting for a growth medium in which all components are known, the team was able to achieve greater consistency and safety. This makes it a more desirable option for manufacturing food products for human consumption. “The ability to derive and maintain livestock stem cells under chemically defined conditions paves the way for the development of novel food products, such as cultured meat,” observes the study’s co-senior author Prof. Ramiro Alberio from the University of Nottingham, the United Kingdom, in a news release posted on ‘ScienceDaily’. “The cell lines we developed are a step change from previous models as they have the unique ability to permanently grow to make muscle and fat.” The new cell lines are pluripotent, meaning they can differentiate into several cell types. They can also be genetically manipulated using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool or used as donors for nuclear transfer. This technology could expand research into gene editing animals in order to make them more productive or adaptable to climate change, the aim being to reduce the negative impact that livestock production currently has on the environment. “Gene editing in this way makes modifications that could happen naturally over a long time but in a selective a [sic] rapid manner to customize specific traits,” Prof. Alberio explains. “This can accelerate the pace of genetic selection of livestock and cultured meat to improve productivity and creation of healthier foods. With a growing population to feed in a changing climate finding reliable and sustainable food is vital. This research offers potential solutions that the food industry could use at scale.” The future prospects are therefore promising. Leading stem cell research expert and study co-senior author Prof. Austin Smith of PLASTINET (Plasticity of the Pluripotency Network) project host University of Exeter, the United Kingdom, comments: “It is very exciting that starting from a fundamental question about early development in different animals we have discovered a technique that may revolutionise future production of meat.” For more information, please see: PLASTINET project


PLASTINET, stem cell, meat, food, cultured meat, serum, livestock, farm, pig, sheep, cattle

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