There’s currently a lot of interest in growing the cultivated meat industry from start-ups and venture capitalists, but little peer-reviewed research to support the science.

“I get a bit worried that people put out articles and other things in the press and then none of it is based on facts, because the facts don’t exist,” David Kaplan, director of the Tissue Engineering and Research Center at Tufts University, told me.

“Our job is to do solid science and publish the data so people can make decisions based on science and not just based on an extrapolation.”

A young science

The science of cultivated meat is still a relatively new one. 

The world’s first lab-grown hamburger was unveiled in 2013. The meat alternative isn’t available on the market yet in the U.S. – in large part due to the high cost of manufacturing -- although Eat Just Inc. received regulatory approval to sell its lab-grown chicken nuggets commercially within the city-state of Singapore in December 2020. The announcement marked the first time worldwide that cultivated meat received the green light for human consumption.

Peer-reviewed studies about cultivated meat are starting to trickle in as the science matures, Kaplan said, but there’s still so much that is unknown.

Filling the void

Kaplan is part of a team of researchers from Tufts University, Virginia Tech, University of California, Davis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia State University the University of Massachusetts, Boston, dedicated to developing approaches to manufacturing cultivated meat, as well as training the next generation of professionals in the industry. 

The team also hopes to create a Center of Excellence for cultivated meat within the next five years, which will be aimed at helping to fill the data and research void for industry.

The research project recently received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Sustainable Agricultural System Program.

“Our mission is really to build a strong scientific foundation for the field,” said Kaplan. “I’m amazed at the progress, but I’m also worried about the gaps though. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

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