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Unpacking the Challenges of Cultivated Meat R&D - Part 2: Growth Media

April 6, 2023

If scaled effectively, cultivated meat technology promises more efficient production of meat and seafood to supply increasing global demand. Its success relies heavily on developing optimal growth media that scale.

Growth media provides everything that cells require to grow, multiply, and develop into meat, just as blood supplies nutrients in the body. The sheer quantity of nutrients results in a complex mixture of sugars, salts, amino acids, lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and acidity-regulating buffers. The Good Food Institute has a great deep dive for the technically minded.

Finding the right balance of these ingredients, as well as sourcing them sustainably at a reasonable price for scaling up production are significant hurdles facing the cultivated meat industry.

For companies aiming to design their own growth media, the major limiting factors are cost and performance. The existing market for growth media has been biomedical research and biopharmaceutical production. Cultivated meat needs a new solution.

Following our article exploring the barriers to sourcing and isolating high-quality cells for cultivated meat production, we highlight the primary considerations in growth media design and selection for cultivated meat research and product development.

Growth media design and cost

Cell banks and growth media are the primary tools of the cultivated meat industry from which companies build and differentiate their unique products for the market. Whether a company decides on growing a chicken nugget or a wagyu steak, having access to these initial tools is critical for building desirable products for consumers.

However, many growth media commercially available today were not designed with something as consumer-facing as cultivated meat in mind. They were developed for cells specific to the therapeutics industry and often contain costly ingredients not suitable for use in large-scale food manufacturing. It is no surprise that cultivated meat companies often try to develop new growth media formulations using ingredients better suited to growing their range of cell types for meat production.

In-house growth media formulation design may be more costly and laborious in the long run. The first cultivated meat burger cost £215,000 to produce in August 2013. While lab-scale production costs have come down since then, the sector faces new cost challenges as it begins to scale. For the leading generation of cultivated meat companies, it has taken almost a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to prove their first cultivated meat products.

Growth media formulation design requires an expert team, lab space, state-of-the-art computing infrastructure, and specialist equipment in addition to the overheads and consumables. This strategy is a costly and resource-intensive undertaking for cultivated meat companies. Opting for off-the-shelf growth media or outsourcing formulation design and ingredient selection can reduce such risks, allowing the company to prioritize product and brand development.

Animal vs non-animal components

Those familiar with mammalian cell culture will be aware that many standard growth media that are commercially available require supplementation with animal-derived components such as Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS). FBS provides growth and attachment factors as well as nutrients that promote cell growth in culture – particularly during sensitive processes such as cell isolation and proliferation.

However, as the name suggests, FBS is animal-derived and its production goes against the ethical and sustainability aspirations of the cultivated meat industry. Production efficiency presents another challenge to using animal-derived ingredients in culture media. These ingredients are extracted as byproducts of the meat production process, which limits scaling and the ability to reduce costs.

Moving away from complex animal-derived growth media ingredients toward food-grade alternatives grants cultivated meat producers increasing control over their product development process, and offers opportunities to significantly reduce costs.

Growth media and scaling

While adequate for R&D and benchtop scale product development, the current cost of traditional growth media on the market today and its use of undefined animal-derived components such as FBS makes it unsuitable for future large-scale cultivated meat production.

The plight of cultivated meat companies individually designing bespoke growth media in-house is equally unsuitable, as it draws precious resources from their mission of delivering cultivated meat products to the market.

To realize the promise of more responsible, sustainable, and cost-effective meat and seafood production in the future, we believe the cultivated meat industry can move much quicker by aligning industry partners – such as Multus and Extracellular – to overcome challenges in growth media formulation and process development, rather than every company tackling these same technical challenges over years by themselves at great expense.

To explore Multus’ FBS-free growth media offering and learn more about working with Multus as a reliable partner for scaling cellular agriculture, click here.

Read Unpacking the Challenges of Cultivated Meat Part 1: Cell Sourcing


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