Israeli bioprinting startup MeaTech 3D announced earlier this week that it successfully printed a carpaccio-like layer of meat, CTech reported. The thin, uniform layer of muscle tissue lays a foundation for the holy grail of alternative proteins: lab grown steak.
Founded in 2018, MeaTech integrated tissue engineering and 3D printing technologies to produce animal-free cuts of beef. Stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord— so no animal is harmed in the sampling process—and multiplied in a bioreactor. The stem cells are then differentiated into the needed cell types, like muscle and fat cells. These distinct cells become the cellular inks used by the 3D printer, which prints a complex structure of fat and muscle cells that can grow into an actual cut of meat.
“3D printed tissues are at the cutting edge of cell-based meat technology,” Kate Krueger, a cell biologist and alternative proteins consultant for Helikon Consulting told me this week in an email interview.
MeaTech’s most recent initiative, named Project Carpaccio because of the products similarity to the thinly sliced Italian meat. The printed single layer of tissue proved the team could successfully sort muscle and fat stem cells, produce the necessary cellular ink and combine the meat and fat cells in a way that causes them to coalesce into a single structure.
MeaTech is one of a few companies exclusively aiming to produce whole muscle tissue. The majority of cultured meat to date has been ground or minced, made by manually combining lab grown cells into a sludge that can be turned into a burger, nugget or patty. While both types of cultured meat are necessary to disrupt the meat industry, growing muscle tissue is decidedly more difficult. Tissue engineers have to mimic the intricate systems that support muscle growth in an animal.
“It’s easier to make minced meat and we understand that – but we’re not going there. We believe the real solution will come from growing large, industrial-size chunks of meat,” CEO Sharon Fima told the Jerusalem Post earlier this year.
Project Carpaccio shows proof of concept and a lot of progress in two years. But MeaTech’s 3D printed steaks have a long road ahead. Regulatory approval, affordability and scalability are still major hurdles that could take up to a decade to overcome, Fima told Haaretz in March. Their competitors, however, believe they’ll be on plates and burgers within the year. Fellow Isreali startup, Redefine, announced in June that their printed steak will be in restaurants by the end of 2020 and in supermarkets by 2022. And SavorEats plans to test out their plant-based burgers, which are 3D printed and cooked simultaneously, in a leading fast food chain within the next twelve months.
With Project Carpaccio finished ahead of schedule, MeaTech is on to the next challenge, printing a quarter pound (100 gram) steak. They will print the steak’s foundational structure, grow it so size in an incubator and see if it passes the taste test.