Bioprinting startup MeaTech 3D has filed a patent with the United States Patent Office (USPTO) it says could significantly improve the manufacturing process for its cultivated meat.
The Ness Ziona, Israel-based company has since 2018 been developing a method for cultivated meat that relies on 3D bioprinting. Cells are extracted from the animal (without harming it) and transferred to bioreactors, where they multiply before getting differentiated into different cell types, such as fat and muscle. That process is, with some variation, akin to just about any company developing cultivated meat right now.
Where MeaTech’s method starts to differ is when the bio-inks come into play. The bio-inks are formed from the cell types mentioned above, like muscle and fat, and scaffolding material, which provides structural support cells can adhere to as they grow and mature. Once the inks are loaded into a 3D bioprinter, they are printed to, in MeaTech’s own description, “assemble cells as they would be found in a conventional cut of muscle.” The printed product is incubated to form tissue and eventually become a full cut of meat that goes to the consumer.
Needless to say, nobody’s buying full cuts of steak from MeaTech on store shelves at the moment. The company has so far only printed a carpaccio-like layer of meat, which is considerably thinner than a ribeye-sized cut of meat. It will likely be years before the latter emerges as an actual product, though MeaTech has recently announced a pilot production facility that will help in this process.
The company’s main competitor in this area is Aleph Farms, also based in Israel. Earlier this year, Aleph said it had developed a 3D-printed ribeye cultivated steak. Elsewhere, however, many cultivated meat companies continue to focus on unstructured meat like grounds, nuggets, and patties.
MeaTech says the patent filed for this week will give the company more control during the printing process, increase printing speeds, and allow for a greater variety of inks. The end goal, of course, is to improve the manufacturing process overall in order to get the company closer to making whole cuts of meat.