To grow or not to grow: Bovine cells engineered to produce their own growth factors in cultivated meat production

Cultivated meat production is a complex process. In many parts of the world, regulatory approval has still not been achieved. One of the main barriers to commercialisation​ is cost, and one of the main costs is the use of growth factors.

Growth factors can not be done away with lightly: they are one of the most important parts of producing cultivated meat, as they stimulate the growth of cells. In order to promote growth, they must be added to the cell culture media, the mixture of nutrients which cultivated meat requires to work. However, they are also highly expensive and one of the main reasons why cultivated meat producers find it so difficult to produce at consumer-friendly prices.

Now, a new study​, published in the journal Cell Reports Sustainability, shows that bovine cells can be engineered to create their own growth factors, eliminating the need to add expensive growth factors to the cell culture media. This has the potential to be a boon for the industry.

“These kinds of systems offer the potential to dramatically lower the cost of cultured meat production by enlisting the cells themselves to work with us in the processes, requiring fewer external inputs (added ingredients), and therefore fewer secondary production processes for those inputs,” lead researcher Andrew Stout told FoodNavigator.

The role of growth factors in serum-free media

Growth factors are necessary because they provide a signal for cells to grow and differentiate. Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs), for example, trigger the growth of skeletal muscle cells. Without such a growth factor, cell growth decays. However, they are often a highly expensive part of the cell culture media, and must be frequently replaced.