For the first time, researchers have managed to collect stem cells from livestock and grow them in vitro under chemically defined conditions, according to a study published in the journal Development (1). This work paves the way for producing cultured meat and breeding enhanced livestock.
A team from the University of Nottingham, alongside colleagues from Cambridge, Exeter, and Tokyo, successfully developed stem cell lines from cattle, sheep, and pig embryos cultured in vitro without the need for feeder cells or antibiotics. The researchers also bypassed the use of foetal bovine serum as a source of nutrients—which is commonly used in in vitro cell culture—and instead opted for a growth media in which all components are known.
This avoids using a serum that is undefined and highly variable from batch to batch. The new approach using chemically defined media provides greater consistency and safety, making it a much better option for manufacturing products that will potentially be used for human consumption in the future.
“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. 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”, said Professor Ramiro Alberio, who led the research.
Crucially, not only these new cell lines can differentiate into several cell types, but they can also be genetically manipulated or used as donors for nuclear transfer. The team believes this technology opens up new doors for expanding research into gene editing animals to increase productivity and adapt to climate change. The aim is to to reduce the environmental impact of livestock production.
“Gene editing in this way makes modifications that could happen naturally over a long time but in a selective a rapid manner to customize specific traits. This can accelerate the pace of genetic selection of livestock and cultured meat to improve productivity and creation of healthier foods”, said Professor Alberio. “With a growing population to feed in a changing climate finding reliable and sustainable food is vital. This research offers potential solutions that the food industry could use at scale.”
“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,” added Professor Austin Smith, Director of the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute.
(1) Kinoshita M, Kobayashi T, Planells B, Klisch D, Spindlow D, Masaki H, Bornelöv S, Stirparo G, Matsunari H, Uchikura A, Lamas-Toranzo I, Nichols J, Nakauchi H, Nagashima H, Alberio R and Smith A (2021) Pluripotent stem cells related to embryonic disc exhibit common self-renewal requirements in diverse livestock species. Development, 148 (23): dev199901. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.199901