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Gets 250.000 US$ to grow ethical meat in the lab

Gareth Sullivan and his research group has been selected as one of the academic communities that will help solve the challenges of growing environmentally friendly and ethical meat at an affordable price. For good measure, they may also save endangered species of animals. The news was published in Nature on 6 February.

Gareth Sullivan in deep concentration in his laboratory in Domus Medica, UiO. Photo: Gunnar Lothe, UiO.

The Good Food Institute (GFI) (GFI) is a think tank in Washington, DC that promotes alternatives to conventional meat. GFI has initiated a major Competitive Research Grant Program. The inaugural award totals US$3 million for 12 research projects. Dr. Gareth Sullivan has received a large grant from GFI for his project "The Frozen Farmyard - Creating a Clean Meat Cell Line Repository".

Developing liver models in the lab

Clean meat = cultivated meat

Pluripotentstamcelle = a cell that can be used to make any type of cell in the body except the placenta. Read more in Norwegian, Store norske leksikon: Stamcelle.

Cell lines = Cell lines are a population of animal and plant cells grown in cell culture and are capable of unlimited division. Under proper conditions and with sufficient amount of nourishment, such cells are virtually immortal. For this reason, such cells are used particularly in research. Ref. Store norske leksikon.

Gareth Sullivan is deputy director of the University's newly created centre for excellence in research, Hybrid Technology Hub (SFF-hth). He is also the group leader of the Norwegian Centre for Stem Cell Research and has affiliated positions at the Department of Immunology and the Paediatric Research Institute, OUS.

A beaming Dr. Sullivan explains how researchers in his laboratory produce livers and are preventing rhinos from dying out.  The award from the U.S. is most welcome. Photo: Silje Rosseland, UiO

In general, the focus in Sullivan’s lab is understanding what dictates the fate of cells. Over the past 5 years, the Sullivan group has developed liver models from human pluripotent stem cells. 

The liver models are used to dissect debilitating metabolic diseases in children. They are a tool for studying toxicology and reducing dosing frequency. The new technologies will now be tested with patient-specific models to gain insight into disease processes.

Few researchers in"Clean meat"

GFI defines "Clean meat" as meat grown outside of an animal from a small cell sample. The result is 100% real meat, but without antibiotic residues and bacterial contamination. Efficient production reduces land and water costs and emissions of greenhouse gases and eliminates the need for slaughter.

One of the goals of the Good Food Institute (GFI) is to conduct more research into environmentally friendly and ethical alternatives to normal meat production. A lot of research takes place today protected by commercial considerations. GFI wants the research to benefit everyone.

Effective access to samples

Scientists need tissue samples from slaughterhouses for their experiments. Gareth Sullivan plans to use parts of the GFI grant to help build his Frozen Farmyard, a repository of relevant cell lines for agriculture. To streamline the process, they plan to develop an equipment package and system for how farmers across the EU can easily submit cell samples to the Sullivan lab, so researchers don't have to spend time travelling.

"Clean meat" without gene modification

One of the first obstacles in the development of meat in the laboratory is that there are few cell lines for food animals such as cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks and sheep. If they exist they are often either difficult to produce or patented. This is fundamental in order to produce meat and for further research on such production.

Sullivan’s group wants to develop cell lines that can constitute the basis for pluripotent stem cell lines (iPSC lines). One of the objectives of the project is to establish an ever-expanding iPSC biobank. By creating cell lines from iPSCs, it is easier to standardise and it is possible to utilise "footprint free" technologies that do not rely on genetic manipulation. Avoiding gene manipulation will in turn probably make the lab-produced meat more interesting to the consumer.

Saving the northern white rhinoceros

The grant from GFI does not support direct research to save endangered species of animals, but is indirectly a helping hand to be able to do so.

Dr. Sullivan shows various models printed with the supercomputer 3D printer in his lab, which is also a bioprinter that can print live tissues. Photo Gunnar F. Lothe, UiO.

Creating cell lines from endangered species can also make it possible to save endangered species. There are, for example, only two surviving animals of the northern white rhinoceros subspecies, and both are female. In practice, this means that in a few years the northern white rhinoceros will be completely extinct.

The stem cell researcher Gareth Sullivan has already taken a decisive first step in efforts to "de-eradicate" the northern white rhinoceros. He and his colleagues have already created stem cells from northern white rhinos that were stored in a biobank 30 years ago.

The hope is that stem cell research can help with assisted reproduction of the subspecies. The lessons from this work will in turn benefit the work on farm animals.

Benefits for biomedicine

Last but not least, there is a great possibility that the research conducted in Sullivan's lab can greatly benefit the biomedical field, as well as within the "Clean meat" industry with a potentially brand new toolbox of possibilities and methods.


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By Silje M. Kile Rosseland
Published Feb. 12, 2019 10:34 AM - Last modified Apr. 20, 2021 3:34 PM