Lab-grown meat uses spinach 'skeletons' for greener process

Researchers with Boston College have successfully used spinach 'skeletons' as scaffolding to grow bovine cells in a lab, paving the way for a greener, cheaper method to produce beef. This marks the first time researches have grown meat around scaffolding from a stripped spinach leaf, which is an edible structure that can be quickly grown.

Lab-grown meat is, as its name suggests, a type of cultured meat that is produced from cells in a lab rather than harvested from an animal. Unlike traditional meat, cultured meat produced in a lab has the potential to be environmentally friendly with its reduced water and space requirements, as well as an elimination of the gasses produced by cattle.

We're still years away from lab-grown meat being available on the market as a common, affordable food option. However, substantial progress has been made in the past few years and this latest development is no exception. The process involved stripping a spinach leaf down to nothing but its circulatory system, which the researchers refer to as its "skeleton."

The study notes that it is "nearly impossible" to create a scaffold like this in the lab. The researchers previously used the spinach scaffolding as part of a project to grow human heart tissue; this time around, they turned their attention to bovine tissue. The isolated cow precursor meat cells were viable for up to two weeks and successfully differentiated into bovine muscle, according to the study.

The work isn't finished yet, however, with the study's lead author Glenn Gaudette explaining:

Cellular agriculture has the potential to produce meat that replicates the structure of traditionally grown meat while minimizing the land and water requirements. We demonstrate that decellularizing spinach leaves can be used as an edible scaffold to grow bovine muscle cells as they develop into meat ... We need to scale this up by growing more cells on the leaves to create a thicker steak. In addition, we are looking at other vegetables and other animal and fish cells.