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Current Research Projects

We fund and support open, collaborative, academic research to advance the field of cellular agriculture. Since 2008, New Harvest has committed over $2,194,574 in grants for ten research projects across four countries and five disciplines. 

Ricardo: Biofabricating Muscle

Using Curved Surface Templates for the Biofabrication of Structured Skeletal Muscle Tissues

New Harvest Research Fellow: Dr. Ricardo M. Gouveia, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, UK 

Project Start Date: December 2018

Project Duration: 15 months (Oct 2018 – Dec 2019), part-time (0.3 FTE)

Institutes: Newcastle University, UK

Supervisors:  Dr. Che J. Connon (Professor of Tissue Engineering; Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, UK)


Project Abstract: 

Meat palatability is the primary determinant of consumer acceptance. This attribute is in turn determined by the highly-ordered structure of the tissue’s complex cellular andmatrix components. Current strategies to reproduce these intricate features in vitrousually rely on intricate and costly setups with limited scalability potential. Recently, Professor Che Connon’s group at Newcastle University demonstrated that tissue templating represents a simple and cheap but efficient strategy to control the behavior of stromal stem cells in vitro to create highly-ordered connective tissue equivalents for regenerative medicine applications. Specifically, they showed that substrate curvature at the millimeter-scale spontaneously promote the migration, proliferation, and self-organization (alignment) of stromal cells and of their deposited matrix. Moreover, templated surfaces were able to elicit the controlled bio-fabrication of dense, highly-ordered connective tissues reproducing the 3D architecture and composition of their natural counterparts. As such, the concept of tissue templating using curved surfaces may constitute an ideal approach to produce larger, denser, and easily-recoverable structured muscle tissues with an organization and composition that allows reproducing the texture of natural meat, as recognized by the consumers’ palate (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1: How tissue templating can contribute for the in vitro production of structured meat.(a) Myoblasts isolated from animals grown on curved surface templates are instructed to align and deposit highly-ordered matrix, forming (b) structured tissues that serve as support for the growth of additional relevant cell types, and then (c) processed (via stacking, folding) for higher hierarchical tissue organization, and to recreate the structure and texture of natural meat.

John: Cell Behavior Regulation

Modifying the Behavior of Cultured Meat Relevant Cells Without Alterations to the Genome

New Harvest Research Fellow: John Yuen, PhD Candidate, Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University

Project Start Date: December 2018

Project Duration: Full time; Four years funded; One year optional extra for completion.

Institutes: Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA; NIH P41 Tissue Engineering Resource Center, Boston, MA, USA

Supervisors: Dr. David Kaplan (Professor/Chair, Biomedical Engineering; Tufts University)​​:


Project Abstract: 

John is working on managing the behavior of cells used in cultured meat production to make them usable in large scale production. This involves processes such as preventing cellular senescence (where cells stop multiplying) and promoting robust stem cell differentiation into muscle fibers. John is trying to achieve these goals without genomic modifications, as this may assist in the acceptance of cultured meat in regions of the world that are typically against genetic modification in food, such as the European Union (EU).

Stephanie: Marbled Beef Scaffolds

Developing Plant-Based Scaffolds for Marbled Cultured Cultured Beef 

New Harvest Research Fellow: Stephanie Kawecki, M.S; The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles 

Project Start Date: April 2019

Project Duration: Full time; Four years funded 

Institutes: The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles

Supervisors:  Dr. Amy Rowat, Associate Professor of Biology and Integrative Physiology; Adjunct Faculty in Bioengineering, The Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles 

 


Project Abstract: 

The beef industry is a major contributor to accelerating climate change. Culturing meat in vitro is a promising strategy to reduce the environmental impact of beef production. However, meat texture is a major determinant of taste and consumer appeal, and a cultured beef product that recapitulates the texture of beef - with marbling, or interspersing of fat within muscle - does not exist yet. A marbled cultured meat product requires co-culture of both muscle (myocyte) and fat (adipocyte) cells on a scaffold with culture conditions that result in successful maturation of both cell types to form muscle and fat tissue. Given that myocytes and adipocytes require distant mechanical cues to successfully propagate and mature, Stephanie will tune scaffold physical properties to enable the simultaneous growth of both cell types and drive the production of cultured marbled beef that has desirable texture and flavor. Improving palatability is critical for cell-cultured beef to become an effective, sustainable replacement that meets the needs of consumers and reduces environmental burden. 

Kai: Serum-Free Media

Serum-Free Media for Cultured Meat Production 

New Harvest Research Fellow: Kai Steinmetz (MSc in Biochemistry (German equivalent); Currently PhD candidate at the University of Auckland)

Project Start Date: January 2019

Project Duration: Full time; Three years funded; One year optional for completion.

Institutes: The University of Auckland, The Riddet Institute

Supervisors:  Dr Laura Domigan (Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences; University of Auckland); Professor Juliet Gerrard (Professor, School of Biological Sciences and Department of Chemistry; University of Auckland); Professor Warren McNabb (Professor, Massey University)


Project Abstract: 

This research aims to create serum-free and cost-effective growth and differentiation media for clean meat production. Both basal media and serum requirements will be addressed. A high-throughput screen using C2C12 muscle cells will be established to investigate NZ agricultural products for their potential as serum replacements, as well as low-cost alternatives to conventional basal media. In parallel, a defined media will bedeveloped. Small molecules will also be screened and compared to recombinant growth factors. This research will also establish a deer primary muscle cells culture for the first time, and test new media formulations on these cells.

 

Jordan: Spinach Scaffolds

Construction of 3D Vascularized Skeletal Muscle Tissue from Decellularized Spinach Leaves for Cell-based Meat Production 

New Harvest Research Fellow: Jordan Jones (BS Biomedical Engineering; Worcester Polytechnic Institute)

Project Start Date: April 2017

Project Duration: Three years 

Institutes: Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Worcester, MA, USA

Supervisors:  Dr. Glenn Gaudette (Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Worcester Polytechnic Institute)


Project Abstract: 

The concept of in-vitro meat production promises to solve a number of growing concerns in the agriculture industry. One of the main barriers to this technology is engineering an edible, vascularized scaffold to maintain cell viability in 3D culture environments. Our lab has demonstrated that decellularized spinach leaves can be used as a 2D scaffold for mammalian cells. By utilizing the natural vasculature of decellularized spinach leaves, these scaffolds can be useful tissue engineering applications. We propose that a vascularized 3D culture can be created by layering these 2D cultures using decellularized spinach leaves as the scaffold.

Natalie: Insect Cell Culture

Insect Tissue Engineering for Cellular Agriculture

New Harvest Research Fellow: Natalie Rubio, PhD Candidate, Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University

Project Start Date: August 2016

Project Duration: Full time; Four years funded; One year optional extra for completion.

Institutes: Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA; NIH P41 Tissue Engineering Resource Center, Boston, MA, USA

Supervisors: Dr. David Kaplan (Professor/Chair, Biomedical Engineering; Tufts University)​​:


Project Abstract: 

Cellular agriculture is the emerging field of manufacturing animal products (e.g., meat, dairy, eggs) from cells rather than whole animals. This bottom-up approach to food production is projected to be more sustainable, safe and humane than intensive livestock farming. Principle obstacles in the field include (1) large-scale production of relevant cell types (e.g., muscle, fat), (2) serum-free growth media and (3) three-dimensional, structured tissue formation. While these goals are similar to the aims of tissue engineering for medical applications, cellular agriculture technologies are also constrained by cost- efficiency as cell-based food should be cost-competitive with conventional analogs. Insect cell and tissue culture is a promising platform for cost-efficient production of cell-based meat. Large-scale insect cell production is well-documented due to the recombinant protein production industry and multiple serum- free media formulations are commercially available. While insect-based tissue engineering has been previously pursued in the field of soft robotics and bioactuation, advances have been minimal. The aim of my research is to develop a three-dimensional culture system for insect tissue biofabrication with consideration for food applications. To achieve this, Natalie will focus on (1) cell line development and serum- free media formulation, (2) scaffold fabrication and (3) nutrient and texture analysis. Natalie plans to use cells from three sources: a genetically immortalized GFP-expressing D. melanogaster adult muscle precursor cell line and primary cells isolated from M. sexta and A. domesticus. Natalie will evaluate sustainable biomaterials such as mushroom-derived chitosan, cellulose and silk protein in 2D (e.g., micropatterned films) and 3D (e.g., sponge, hydrogel) formats. The nutrient profile and texture characteristics of resulting tissues will be compared to conventional meat products. This work will set a foundation for future exploration in the field of invertebrate cell and tissue technologies.

 

Natalie Rubio is the first recipient of the New Harvest Cultured Tissue Fellowship. New Harvest created the New Harvest Cultured Tissue Fellowship in 2015 in partnership with the Tissue Engineering Research Center (TERC) at Tufts University. TERC is an NIH-supported initiative that focuses on functional tissue engineering through a systems approach to integrate the key elements of tissue engineering: cells, scaffold, and bioreactors. 

TERC is based at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts and is directed by Professor David Kaplan, in whose lab Natalie will be working. Dr. Kaplan works on tissue engineering beyond medical applications, so it is the perfect place for biofabricated foods to develop. 

Natalie started volunteering with New Harvest in 2014. In the summer of 2014, she traveled with Isha and Ryan and Perumal from Muufri to Cork, Ireland where she worked as part of Muufri's team as they began an accelerator program through Indie.Bio

 

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Natalie's first day in the lab!

 

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Santiago: Plant-Based Scaffolds

Decellularized Celery Scaffolds for Cell Culture and Guided Cell Alignment 

New Harvest Research Fellow: Santiago Campuzano, BSc Food Science, University of British Columbia

Project Start Date: September 2017

Project Duration: Three years full time for a MSc

Institutes: University of British Columbia

Supervisors:  Dr. Andrew Pelling (Canada Research Chair and Professor, Depts of Physics and Biology; University of Ottawa) 


Project Abstract: 

The goal of this work is to develop an open source, plant-based scaffolding platform which can be employed by anyone worldwide for numerous applications, including cellular agriculture.

 

Currently, biomaterial scaffolds that support the growth of mammalian cells in 3D are expensive and commonly derived from animal/human products, making them unsuitable for creating cultured meat.

The Pelling lab has demonstrated that apple-derived cellulose can act as an ultra-low cost and efficiently produced scaffold. It could support 3D culture of mammalian cells, promote cell invasion and proliferation, and retain shape and mechanical properties for several months in culture. As an organic, plant-based fibre, cellulose is one of the most abundant, sustainable, and easily sourced biomaterials on earth (it can be found in plant barks and leaves).

Over the following three years, Santiago will be investigating naturally-derived biomaterials from at least five plant sources — asian pear, carrot, rose petals, asparagus, and mushroom, to name a few — as scaffolds for cultured meat production.

Spatial alignment and orientation of cells in vivo, referred to as anisotropy, plays a crucial role in the functionality of tissue. The multinucleated structures in muscle tissue, known as myofibers, rely on uniaxial alignment to generate force along an axis. Airways, arteries, and veins rely on the circumferential alignment of smooth muscles to facilitate the transport of fluids and gases; and white matter in the brain relies on anisotropic axonal fibres for proper functioning. In the laboratory, however, 2D Petri dishes fail to recreate anisotropy. This in turn has shown a difference in gene expression, leading to unreliable results. To overcome this discrepancy, a wide array of methods, including topographical cues, cyclic strain, and electrical stimulation have been used to induce alignment. However, these methods are often laborious and rely on the use of specialized equipment. Consideration of recent publications on decellularized plant tissue as 3D substrates for cell culture has led us to speculate that a wide array of structures natively found in plants have yet to be explored. Here we depict the alignment of C2C12 murine myoblast on the decellularized vascular bundle of celery (Apium graveolens). The xylem channels (38.50μm ± 6.9) and phloem channels (21.5 μm ± 5.0) lie within the 10-100μm diameter necessary for optimal myoblast alignment. Following 10 days in proliferation media, the actin filaments of C2C12 and apex of nuclei were observed to be oriented parallel to the vascular bundle-grooves. Subsequently, after 5 days in differentiation media, myotubes with an average length of 308.1 ± 169.4μm (N=103) were -2.4° ± 3.8 (N=14) from the mean direction of the vascular bundle. We can therefore conclude that the microtopography of the vascular bundle guides muscle cell alignment. The results presented here highlight the potential of this plant-derived scaffold for in vitro studies of muscle myogenesis, where structural anisotropy is required to more closely resemble in vivo conditions.

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Santiago at the microscope

 

Fun Facts: Santiago is into boxing and martial arts, worked in the hospitality industry as a cook and server throughout his degree, and just packed up his car for a 7-day cross-Canada move from Vancouver to Ottawa to begin his research.

 

This project is made possible thanks to the philanthropic support of the InVivo Group and the Scott and Cyan Banister Freedom Fund. 

Andrew: Nutritional Engineering

Nutritional Engineering and Analysis of Cultured Meat 

New Harvest Research Fellow: Andrew Stout, BSc Materials Science and Bioengineering, Rice University

Project Start Date: September 2017

Project Duration: Four years full time for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering

Institutes: Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA; NIH P41 Tissue Engineering Resource Center, Boston, MA, USA

Supervisors:  Dr. David Kaplan (Professor and Chair, Biomedical Engineering; Tufts University)


Project Abstract: 

This research will help us control the production of cultured meat to ensure the growth phase is effective and the differentiation phase is complete.

 

Environmental, ethical, and public-health concerns surrounding animal agriculture have generated much of the recent interest in cultured meat. By producing meat apart from the competing energy requirements present in whole animals, it is projected that cultured meat could lower the land-use, water-use, and greenhouse-gas emissions of meat. However, another exciting possibility exists in the opportunity to tailor the nutritional profile of cultured meats by introducing nutrients and bioactive compounds not typically found in meat, or not typically found at high levels in meat. This project aims to explore methods for nutritional engineering of cultured meat through bioprocess design or genetic strategies, and to understand the native nutritional properties of cultured meat. Through this work, we hope to understand the nutritional benefits that may be offered by cultured meat, elucidate the nutritional disadvantages that may be present compared to conventional meat, and explore methods to tailor the nutritional profiles of cultured meat products.

 

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Andrew Stout at the culture hood in the lab at Tufts

 

Fun Facts: Andrew has been part of the cellular agriculture world for a few years! He has interned with Mark Post in Maastricht, the Netherlands twice, as well as with Geltor in San Francisco. Andrew also has an interest in comedy and theatre; he has written 50 original sketches and two short plays.

Scott: Bioreactor Design

Cultured Meat Bioprocess Design

New Harvest Research Fellow: Scott Allan, MEng Chemical Engineering, University of Bath

Project Start Date: October 2017

Project Duration: Four years full time for a MRes (Masters of Research) and PhD

Institutes: University of Bath

Supervisors: Dr. Marianne Ellis (Senior lecturer in Biochemical Engineering; University of Bath), Dr. Paul De Bank (Senior lecturer in Pharmacy & Pharmacology; University of Bath), & Mr. Illtud Dunsford (Farmer, Agri-Food Consultant and owner of Charcutier Ltd)

 


Project Abstract: 

 

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Bioreactor design and control are well established in engineering disciplines like pharmaceuticals and medicine but are completely new for cultured meat. To date, the bioreactors used for cultured meat production have been of a lab scale, typically culture flasks and small scale bioreactors up to 10L. To reach industrial scale production of cultured meat, larger bioreactors must be designed.

Certain parameters must be understood to design an appropriate bioreactor. These fundamental parameters include, but are not limited to:

  • reaction kinetics (how quickly muscle cells will grow, divide, and mature),
  • transport phenomena (how nutrients will enter the cells, how waste products exit),
  • mass transfer limitations (the efficient flow of media over cells)
  • metabolic stoichiometric requirements (what the inputs (food) and outputs (waste products) of cultured meat production will be)

This is important research because no such data for muscle cell cultures for meat is currently publicly available.

This project will determine these parameters for cultured meat production, becoming the crucial basis for large scale cultured meat production.

Fun Facts: Scott is a certified scuba diver, is originally from South Africa, worked as a Distillation Technical Engineer at ExxonMobil, and is in the triathlon and boxing clubs at Bath.