Using plant protein for cultivated meat with improved texture

Thursday, 01 February, 2024

Using plant protein for cultivated meat with improved texture

As the world’s population increases, cultivated meat, which can be grown using edible, inexpensive plant proteins, has emerged as a potential way to satisfy future protein needs. Researchers in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering have found that a non-allergenic wheat protein, glutenin, can grow striated muscle layers and flat fat layers, which could be combined to produce meat-like textures.

Cultured cells need a base or scaffold to adhere to to produce lab-grown meat, and plant proteins are an option for this. Previous researchers have showed that a plant-based film made of glutenin was a successful base to cultivate cow skeletal muscle cells. But for this technique to produce a meat-like alternative, the muscle cells need to form aligned fibres, similar to the texture in real tissues. Fat also needs to be included in the 3D structure to replicate the composition of traditional meat products. To take advantage of using glutenin (which is a protein in gluten that people with coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity don’t typically react to), Ya Yao, John Yuen, Jr, Chunmei Li, David Kaplan and colleagues wanted to develop plant-based films with it to grow textured muscle cells and fatty layers.

The researchers isolated glutenin from wheat gluten and formed flat and ridge-patterned films, then deposited mouse skeletal muscle cells onto the films and incubated them for two weeks. Cells grew and proliferated on both flat and ridged films. Compared to the cells grown on control films made of gelatin, the performance of the glutenin-based films was inferior but sufficient.

According to the researchers, further work needs to be done to improve how cells attach to the plant-based film. During the second week of the culture, the cells on the patterned film formed long parallel bundles, recreating the fibre structure of animal muscles.

The cultured meat and fat layers attached to the edible glutenin films could be stacked to form a 3D meat-like alternative protein. Because the films supported the growth of both muscle and fat layers, the researchers said it could be used as an approach for more realistic cultivated products.

Image credit: Adapted from ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering 2024, DOI: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.3c01500

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