Scientists have taken grass from their university campus and used it to create a scaffold that animal cells can adhere to and grow to. This surprising line of experimentation generates tissues that could be used as edible synthetic meat or as human muscle tissue to repair or replace tissue that has been damaged or lost through injury or disease.
The first step in the new bioengineering process tested by Paul de Bank, Marianne Ellis and Scott Allan, all three from the University of Bath in the UK, is to empty the blades of grass from their native cells in a process known as decellularization.
Next, cells derived from a mouse cell line are seeded in the decellularized blades. These cells are replaceable by bovine stem cells if the goal is to produce edible meat.
The introduced cells adhere to the surface of the scaffold, multiply and form bonds with neighboring cells, eventually growing as a cell mass to form new 3D tissue.
Every scaffold for the growth of new muscle tissue must meet several requirements.
First, the scaffold must have surfaces to which cells can easily adhere. Surfaces must also allow these cells to proliferate and align themselves in a way that precisely mimics the natural tissue fibers that they are replicating (with muscle fibers, for example, all cells must contract and relax in tandem).
Second, to ensure industrial-scale production, the scaffold must be cheap and easy to manufacture.
As for lab-grown edible synthetic meat, there is a third requirement: the scaffold must not be toxic to humans or otherwise dangerous.
The unique scaffold created with the proven method at the University of Bath meets all of those criteria.
Aligned myotubes (cylindrical cell fibers that are part of muscle tissue) growing in grass. (Image: Allan Scott)
The next big challenge will be to scale up this process to generate sufficient amounts of both cells and scaffold material to produce a significant amount of muscle tissue. If this is successful, consumers will one day be able to purchase grass-raised meat with a clear conscience, free of the environmental and animal welfare concerns that many struggle with today.
De Bank, Ellis and Allan present the technical details of their method in the journal Journal of Biomedical Materials Research – Part A, under the title “Decellularized grass as a sustainable scaffold for skeletal muscle tissue engineering”. (Source: NCYT from Amazings)