Competition drives innovation, but for an industry in its earliest stages of development, one of the smartest moves competitors can take is to join forces to overcome fundamental technical challenges, develop standards, and share knowledge in a way that advances the industry as a whole.
Recently, the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture (TUCCA) launched a new Consortium, consisting of industry and nonprofit members, to support research in a field that many consider the future of food. Cellular agriculture is an emerging technical solution to creating meat products from the growth of cells in a bioreactor, avoiding the need for farm animals, large swaths of cleared land, and outsized demands for feedstock, water and waste management. Traditional farming puts increasing pressure on resources and the environment to feed a growing population, while cellular agriculture holds out the promise for a more sustainable and humane solution to growing and sacrificing animals for food.
Start-ups and academic labs have begun to produce cultivated meat grown from cells to replicate lamb, pork, fish and chicken, but the field of cellular agriculture is still very young. Getting to the point at which the new technology can feed millions of people, or even billions of people on the planet will require some important hurdles to be overcome. These include developing improved processes to rapidly grow and form cells into meat products that have the taste, nutrition and texture of the real thing and bringing production up to a scale that can meet the demands of a hungry worldwide market.
While the potential for sustainability in cellular agriculture is great, competitors can benefit from sharing knowledge and methods to minimize environmental impacts, finding replacements for all animal sourced materials (other than the self-propagating cells) in the growth media, and evaluating the entire economic and environmental cost of production. Those are just a few of the areas that the TUCCA Consortium may explore. In practice, the Consortium members will confer and decide among themselves what challenges take priority, and then focus their resources on research to find solutions to those challenges
The Consortium’s nine founding members represent companies and non-profits in cellular agriculture worldwide. They include BioFeyn, Cargill, CellX, the Good Food Institute, MilliporeSigma, ThermoFisher Scientific, TurtleTree, UPSIDE Foods, and Vow. “We welcome new applicants that wish to join,” said David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts and director of the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture. “Joining us at the table will enable a company or organization with an interest in cellular agriculture to provide input on the projects to be funded by the Consortium, and early access to the technology and knowledge that comes out of those projects.” Projects are supported by an annual fee provided by Consortium members.
“The pre-competitive research we do together will help build the foundation of technology for the industry,” said Christel Andreassen, associate director of TUCCA. “These efforts may be outside the main business focus of the individual members, or beyond the scope of capability for any one member to address. Pooling our expertise across disciplines and resources will be key.”
“Tufts University is in a unique position to act as a catalyst for this new industry,” said Bernard Arulanandam, Vice Provost for Research at Tufts. “In addition to our own research in developing cultured meat, we can provide resources to the Consortium across multiple fields, from biology and engineering, to nutrition and veterinary medicine.” The Consortium will be aided by faculty and resources at the Tufts School of Engineering, the School of Arts and Sciences, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy, and the School of Medicine, as well as the Food & Nutrition Innovation Institute at the Friedman School.
In 2021, Tufts was awarded a $10 million grant from the USDA to help establish a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture to train the next generation of professionals in the field, and to combine physical, biological and social sciences toward building a new cellular agriculture industry. The grant helped establish TUCCA along with educational programs at Tufts, Virginia Tech, Virginia State, University of California Davis, MIT, and University of Massachusetts Boston. Workforce training will be an important goal for the Consortium, which will set up an internship program providing undergraduate and graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers the opportunity to work with member companies while honing their knowledge and skills on real world applications. (SM/Newswise)