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Laboratory-grown meat uses spinach ‘skeletons’ for a greener process

Boston College researchers have successfully used spinach ‘skeletons’ as a framework for growing bovine cells in a laboratory, paving the way for a more environmentally friendly and inexpensive method of producing beef. This marks the first time that researchers have created meat around scaffolding from a stripped spinach leaf, which is an edible structure that can be grown quickly.

Laboratory-grown meat is, as the name suggests, a type of cultured meat that is produced from cells in a laboratory, rather than harvested from an animal. Unlike traditional meat, laboratory-grown meat has the potential to be environmentally friendly with its reduced water and space requirements, in addition to eliminating the gases produced by livestock.

We are still years away from laboratory-grown meat being available on the market as a common and affordable food option. However, substantial progress has been made in recent years and this latest development is no exception. The process involved reducing a leaf of spinach to nothing but its circulatory system, which the researchers call a “skeleton”.

The study notes that it is “almost impossible” to create a scaffold like this in the laboratory. The researchers have already used spinach scaffolding as part of a project to grow human heart tissue; this time, they turned their attention to the bovine tissue. Cells isolated from beef precursor were viable for up to two weeks and successfully differentiated into bovine muscle, according to the study.

The work has not yet been completed, however, with the study’s lead author, Glenn Gaudette, explaining:

Cellular agriculture has the potential to produce meat that reproduces the structure of traditionally farmed meat, while minimizing land and water needs. We demonstrated that the decellularization of spinach leaves can be used as an edible support for the growth of bovine muscle cells as they turn into meat … We need to increase this by growing more cells in the leaves to create a thicker steak. In addition, we are examining other plants and other animal and fish cells.

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