Focusing on the Future of Sustainable Food
Assessing the Potential of Animal Cell-based Meat Production
The Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH) develops and deploys breakthrough solutions to global issues across the food system, including working with our partners to tackle the protein challenges of our time.
Derrick Risner is a PhD candidate with UC Davis Food Science & Technology in Dr. Edward (Ned) Spang’s lab, where he researches the techno-economic feasibility of animal cell-based meat (ACBM) production. He is developing insights on what advances are still required to make this an accessible protein source for the human diet, and a possible business opportunity for the industry. His graduate studies explore upstream development and downstream application of ACBM production processes, drawing on prior engineering and industry experience.
“Currently, the main challenge from a technological perspective is scaling up production and making it affordable for mass markets. From cost analysis, we believe that achieving price parity with high-end specialty products may be technological feasible.” – Derrick Risner, PhD Candidate, UC Davis Food Science & Technology
Along with establishing large-scale bioreactor infrastructure and selecting appropriate source cell lines, the cell culture medium is one of the keys to growing and scaling ACBM meat production. Risner and his team have been working on a predictive tool to help innovators determine what is feasible from a cost, time, and resource perspective. The interactive tool is designed for users to input decision-making parameters and execute better-informed decisions based on economic modeling of the cultured meat process.
“Understanding cellular metabolism is going to be key, especially if the animal-free serum is being employed, which is currently an expensive and limiting element of research for scaling production of animal cell-based meat.” – Derrick Risner, PhD Candidate, UC Davis Food Science & Technology
Risner’s research has enabled him to discover clear gaps in what might be needed before this technology can go to market. Although the technology and methods of making cultured meat might be understood, the cost of manufacturing these products at the food industry scale is currently prohibitive. Growing particular cells in a specific biostructure using a cost-efficient nutrient medium with or without animal serum has yet to be tested and employed at scale in the industry. Other State of the Industry Reports provide support for his approach, but many are keen for startups to advance on the market already.
“I worry most startups in the cultured meat space are overestimating their short-term timeline to get to market and underestimating their potential long-term impact on completely redesigning our food system.” – Max Elder, Research Director, Institute for the Future
Spang and Risner base their findings on what is already known of cell maturation from other published literature. Their web-based cost calculator allows scientists and entrepreneurs to incorporate these prior learnings in order to gain immediate insight on intended plans of action before making major investments. This work was an interdisciplinary effort with Dr. Tagkopoulos’ lab at UC Davis Computer Science, who focuses on integrative biology and predictive analytics. Their collective goal is to provide an open-source platform to encourage topical dialogue and knowledge that sheds light on what might be required to fully develop the industry.
“We created a robust model, where we are looking at ACBM production from a complete systems approach using the best available data we were able to collect from the literature.”– Dr. Ned Spang, UC Davis Food Science & Technology
Risner explores the technological and economic feasibility of ACBM production at an industrial scale by studying cellular metabolic rates and monitoring cellular requirements for nutrients and glucose in order to accurately characterize the performance of the overall system. He concedes that the results will be of interest to both investor and business communities. However, considerable work still needs to be done before ACBM is proven to be economically viable, which is what Risner’s research focuses on.
At the University of Maastricht lab that cultured the first in vitro burger, the production scale becomes evident.
Left: Beef muscle strands were grown in culture at laboratory scale using routine approaches. Right: The 10-layer tissue culture flasks used for making a piece of the hamburger; making the entire hamburger patty took many more culture flasks than what is shown. (Credit: Daan Luining).
Aside from illuminating cell nutrition and metabolic requirements in specific systems, Risner works to shed light on how industry initiatives can efficiently scale up production. According to Maastricht University, from a single muscle source cell, more than a trillion cells can be grown, which themselves multiply into more than a trillion muscle strands. However, the best means of ACBM production is dependent upon the unique characteristics of the cells in question.
“It’s going to be more complicated and more interesting from here. Each production system has the potential to be unique based upon cell line attributes such as cellular metabolism and growth rate.” – Derrick Risner, PhD Candidate, UC Davis Food Science & Technology
Currently, commodity and high-end ACBM products are at different stages of research and development. In order for production to be economically feasible, there are still technical challenges that need to be addressed, such as managing the variation in cellular metabolism within bioreactors. Although cellular metabolism has been studied for years, Risner says that the intricacies of “cell-based meat are more complex than traditional meat.”
Taking advantage of existing knowledge and the wide range of bioreactor applications could increase the utility and efficiency of plans for industrialized ACBM production without the need for animal serum. Spang and Risner have released their techno-economic assessment and interactive tool to further inform the development and commercialization of ACBM production systems: VIEW FINAL PRINT
Researchers describe the cultured beef production process:
Cultured beef production process: click to view video. (Source: Maastricht University).
Consulting with a range of investor and industry representatives, Risner noticed a prevailing desire to produce more than one dedicated commercial product. Depending on the cell type and bioreactor specifications, cellular metabolism influences the product profile possible from any given system. The industry is waiting, the global need is mounting, and data-driven investments can benefit as Spang and Risner advance this pivotal study.
Derrick Risner, PhD Candidate, UC Davis Food Science & Technology.
“[Then] I think it will be important to provide a life cycle assessment of the environmental impact of animal cell-based meat production from the standpoint of cellular metabolism, using insights gained from this techno-economic assessment.” – Derrick Risner, PhD Candidate, UC Davis Food Science & Technology
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