USA, Boston. A team of Tufts University-led researchers exploring the development of cultured meat found that the addition of the iron-carrying protein myoglobin improves the growth, texture and color of bovine muscle grown from cells in culture. This development is a step toward the ultimate goal of growing meat from livestock animal cells for human consumption.
The researchers found that myoglobin increased the proliferation and metabolic activity of bovine muscle satellite cells. Addition of either myoglobin or hemoglobin also led to a change of color more comparable to beef. The results, published in Foods, indicate potential benefits of adding heme proteins to cell media to improve the color and texture of cell-grown meat.
Authors contributing to the study “The role of extracellular hemoglobin and myoglobin in cell-based meat development” include Robin Simsa, John Yuen, Andrew Stout and Natalie Rubio, all graduate students at the Tufts University School of Engineering and working on cellular agriculture goals; and Per Fogelstrand of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, the PI supervisor for Robin Simsa.
The rationale for developing cultured meat is the potential to reduce the amount of resources required in meat production, as well as significantly shrink its environmental footprint relative to animal farming. The ability to grow cultured meat in a bioreactor could potentially alleviate certain issues. However, much remains to be done to grow the cells in a way that replicates the texture, color and flavor of naturally derived meat.
Plant-based meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger have incorporated heme proteins from soy, which make the product more meat-like in appearance and taste. The Tufts-led research team hypothesized that adding heme proteins to meat cell culture could not only have a similar effect but also could improve the growth of muscle cells which require the heme proteins to thrive.
Myoglobin is a natural component of muscle, and hemoglobin is found in blood. As heme proteins, both carry iron atoms that are responsible for the natural bloody, slightly ‘metallic’ taste of beef. The researchers found that adding hemoglobin or myoglobin changes the color of the bioartificial muscle to a reddish-brown meat-like hue. Myoglobin, however, was much better for promoting cell proliferation and differentiation of the BSCs to mature muscle cells, and better at helping the cells form fibers and adding a rich meat-like color.