Israeli researchers successfully grow beef on soy protein scaffolds

The novel process grows cultured meat tissue within just three or four weeks, which the company says resembles both the texture and taste of beef.

Aleph Farms' slaughter-free steak on a pan (photo credit: AFIK GABAY)
Aleph Farms' slaughter-free steak on a pan
(photo credit: AFIK GABAY)
Hailing a "breakthrough" in slaughter-free meat production, researchers from Haifa's Technion - Israel Institute of Technology and foodtech start-up Aleph Farms have demonstrated that soy protein can be used as an edible scaffold for growing bovine tissue.
Led by Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, dean of the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, the innovative technology was originally designed for medical applications, notably for engineering human tissue for transplants.
Levenberg is also the founding partner and chief scientist of Rehovot-based Aleph Farms, the start-up that shook the food industry in December 2018 when it announced the successful production of the world’s first “cell-grown minute steak,” grown from cells extracted painlessly from a living cow.
The latest findings, published in the online journal Nature Food on Monday, present a novel process to grow cultured meat tissue within just three or four weeks, which the company says resembles both the texture and taste of beef.
The soy protein scaffold, which can be produced in different sizes and shapes, acts an edible replacement for the three-dimensional extracellular matrix (ECM) found in all animals, which provides structural support to cells in all tissues and organs. Soy protein is also advantageous as it is an inexpensive, protein-rich and readily available byproduct obtained during the production of soy oil.
The protein is a porous material with its structure promoting cell and tissue growth, researchers said. Its tiny holes are suitable for cell adherence, division and proliferation. Larger holes can transmit oxygen and nutrients considered essential for building muscle tissue.
"We expect that in the future it will be possible to also use other vegetable proteins to build the scaffolds," Levenberg said. "However, the current research using soy protein is important in proving the feasibility of producing meat from several types of cells on plant-based platforms, which increases its similarity to conventional bovine meat."
The team at Aleph Farms says it has combined six unique technologies enabling it to reduce the production costs and resources required to grow meat, including innovative approaches related to an animal-free growth medium to nourish the cells and bioreactors – the tanks in which the meat tissue grows.
Last October, Aleph Farms announced the successful cultivation of meat aboard the International Space Station, 339 km. from the Earth’s surface.
Describing the achievement as “an essential growth indicator of sustainable food production methods,” growing meat in space aimed to showcase the feasibility of reduced reliance on vast stretches of land, water, feed, antibiotics and other resources typically associated with traditional agriculture.


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