A steak in the future: McMaster researchers to play leading role in putting cultured meat on the table
Genome Canada invests $10 million in research co-led by Ravi Selvaganapathy, focused on making cultured meat more affordable and appealing.
BY Wade Hemsworth
September 7, 2023
A team of McMaster University researchers is taking a leading role in a Canadian initiative aimed at making cultured meat more affordable and accessible to everyday consumers.
The project, announced Sept. 6 and supported by a $10-million investment from Genome Canada through Ontario Genomics, will bring together experts from multiple postsecondary institutions across the country. These include a significant contingent from McMaster, where seven researchers, led by tissue-engineering expert Ravi Selvaganapathy of the School of Biomedical Engineering, will contribute their expertise.
The team will work to develop an efficient, nutritious biological process for making meat without slaughtering animals by combining cultured muscle and fat cells on a plant matrix to recreate the familiar look, texture and taste of meat from animals.
The ultimate goal is to produce slabs of cultured beef comparable to traditional steaks. Similar technology could be used to make pork, poultry and other meat.
Making cultured meat can help meet the growing global demand for protein while avoiding the slaughter of animals and significantly reducing the environmental impact of producing meat from traditional animal sources.
“We have spent the last few years focusing on tissue-engineering methods to create meat tissues that can closely resemble the texture and taste of muscle tissue,” says Selvaganapathy, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Biomicrofluidics.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with Genome Canada and Ontario Genomics and assemble a consortium of experts to propel this field forward and support Canadian companies in this space.”
Cultured-meat products now coming onto the market in places such as the U.S. and Singapore are expensive, Selvaganapthy explains. And because they are made using extruded biological pastes, they don’t fully recreate the appearance and texture of natural meat.
The Canadian project aims to develop a homegrown manufacturing process by exploring ways to reduce the cost of each step in the production process, with the goal of making cultured meat production economically viable.
Genome Canada is a not-for-profit organization advancing genomics research in Canada, and Ontario Genomics is a not-for-profit organization leading the application of genomics-based solutions across key sectors of the economy to drive economic growth, improved quality of life and global leadership for Ontario.
Working collaboratively with diverse partners, the organization supports and funds projects that leverage genomics and related technologies to drive innovation, economic growth, and societal benefits.
The cultured-meat project involves industry, government, NGO and academic partners, including researchers from McMaster, the University of Toronto, University of Alberta, University of Guelph and Ottawa-based Collège La Cité. Project partners will seek to optimize every aspect of cultured meat production to establish Canada as a global leader in this rapidly developing field.
The project’s comprehensive approach includes exploring different cell sources for cultivation, developing cost-effective growth media, enhancing bioreactor capabilities for rapid and high-density cell growth, and incorporating plant-based scaffolds to reduce the number of cultured cells required.
The project will integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to make production as streamlined and efficient as possible.
The researchers plan to conduct nationwide surveys to gauge consumer perceptions and preferences and to use the findings to guide their work, so the final product meets the expectations and requirements of Canadian consumers.
They will pay special attention to the perspectives and preferences of Indigenous communities, who hold unique perspectives on food production and consumption.
With its ambitious scope and comprehensive approach, the Canadian initiative aims to make a significant step forward in the cultured-meat industry, Selvaganapathy says.
By leveraging emerging technologies and established expertise from multiple institutions, the project aims to create an ecosystem that supports and advances the field, fostering the development of innovative companies across Canada.