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An international team of researchers have developed a new technique to obtain and multiply pluripotent embryonic stem cells from pig, sheep and cattle.

Pioneering stem cell research could ease global sustainable food crisis

Scientists have made a pivotal breakthrough in the quest to ease the global sustainable food crisis through pioneering stem cell research.

An international team of researchers, led by Professor Austin Smith from the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, have developed a new technique to obtain and multiply pluripotent embryonic stem cells from pig, sheep and cattle.

The research enables for the first-time stem cells from these three important livestock animals to be grown reliably. Furthermore, the stem cells multiply in simple conditions without the need for serum, feeder cells or antibiotics. This paves the way for future research into the production of lab-grown meat from a renewable stem cell source– a vital step forward in the pursuit of sustainable agriculture

Professor Smith, one of the world’s leading experts in stem cell research said: “It is very exciting that starting from a fundamental question about early development in different animals we have discovered a technique that may revolutionise future production of meat”.

Pluripotent stem cells are the ‘master cells’ found in early development of all mammals, and have the potential to turn into all tissue cell types, including muscle and fat that make meat.

Existing techniques to cultivate stem cells use a basal medium – a “nutritional broth” - supplemented with calf serum, together with mouse cells.

However, the calf serum and feeder cells bring major disadvantages to efforts to adapt stem cell cultivation for biomanufacturing, including variability in composition, the risk of contamination, and the ongoing need for animals.

For the new study, the researchers identified the precise chemically defined conditions required to maintain the stem cells and multiply them at scale.

This new technique is simple, efficient and consistent for all three animals, providing the essential starting point for development of new lab grown food products.

This animal stem cell technology also offers new opportunities for gene editing and cloning to produce enhanced breeds that could reproduce better and be more able to adapt to climate change and changes to diet.

Professor Ramiro Alberio from University of Nottingham, who co-led the research said: “The ability to derive and maintain livestock stem cells under chemically defined conditions paves the way for the development of novel food products, such as cultured meat grown in the lab. The cell lines we developed are a step change from previous models as they have the unique ability to permanently grow to make muscle and fat

“Pluripotent stem cells related to embryonic disc exhibit common self-renewal requirements in diverse livestock species” is publishedin the journal Development. The research was funded by BBSRC, the EU (ERC), MRC, Wellcome Trust and funding agencies in Japan.

Date: 7 December 2021

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