Lab-grown insect meat 'alternative to livestock sources'
13 Jun 2019
Researchers have outlined proposals for lab-grown insect meat as an alternative to harmful livestock farming.
Writing in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, a team at Turfs University in Massachusetts suggest insect cell culture as an advance over lab-grown animal cells in developing substitute meat.
Lead author Natalie Rubio said: “In most mammalian muscle cell culture systems, the cells have to be fixed in a single layer to a growth surface – which is complex to scale up for mass food production.
“Many insect cells, however, can be grown free-floating in a suspension of growth media to allow cost-effective, high-density cell generation.”
The process would also involve animal-free growth media for insect cells, including soy and yeast-based formulas. The lab-grown insect meat would be fed on plants and genetically modified for maximum growth, nutrition and flavour.
Cultivating animal cells for lab-grown meat has in recent years been proposed as a greener method of producing meat than livestock farming, which causes land and water degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. But a separate study cited by the Turfs team suggests energy requirements to cultivate animal cells in the lab could be higher than livestock farming – making insect cell culture a better option.
“Compared to cultured mammalian, avian and other vertebrate cells, insect cell cultures require fewer resources and less energy-intensive environmental control, as they have lower glucose requirements and can thrive in a wider range of temperature, pH, oxygen and osmolarity conditions,” reports Rubio.
Culturing insect cells involves lower water and space requirement than animal cells. The alterations that would be necessary for large-scale meat production are also simpler to achieve with insect cells, which are already used to manufacture insecticides, drugs and vaccines.
Research is still on-going to control development of insect cells into muscle and fat that would represent a physical edible object, and having them obtain a meat-like texture, which could involve techniques that are currently being used in biorobotics.