Company introduces lab-grown fish that is served up by 3-D printers • Earth.com
The world's first 3D-printed lab-grown fish that claims to offer the same taste and texture as its natural counterpart. 
05-04-2023

Company introduces lab-grown fish that is served up by 3-D printers

Scientists have successfully created the world’s first 3D-printed lab-grown fish that claims to offer the same taste and texture as its natural counterpart. 

This innovative product, a collaboration between Israel-based Steakholder Foods and Singapore-based Umami Meats, holds the potential to address the growing concerns of overfishing and depleted fish populations.

The futuristic grouper filets were developed using cells grown in a laboratory, eliminating the need for further strain on fish populations. Steakholder Foods plans to bring this “world-class” fish to the market within a matter of months, providing consumers with an opportunity to experience the novel creation for themselves.

“We are delighted to have produced the world’s first whole filet cultivated fish in partnership with Steakholder Foods,” said Mihir Pershad, CEO of Umami Meats, the company responsible for supplying the fish cells. 

“In this first tasting, we showcased a cultivated product that flakes, tastes, and melts in your mouth exactly like excellent fish should. In the coming months, we intend to announce our plans for bringing this world-class cultivated fish to the market.”

To create the fish product, scientists employed customized bio-inks, materials typically used in 3D printing to form artificial tissue. These inks can be composed of cells as well as gel-like and plant-based materials. In this particular case, Umami Meats extracted cells from a grouper, which were then grown into muscle and fat tissues.

During the 3D printing process, the bio-ink containing the fish tissue gained mass as a glass dish swiped back and forth, eventually resulting in a flaky fish prototype that mimics the texture of cooked fish. Unlike cultivated meats, which require incubation and maturation after printing, the 3D-printed fish can be cooked immediately.

Looking ahead, Steakholder Foods envisions utilizing its 3D printer to create various species of fish, while collaborating with numerous industry partners. The team aims to introduce their first products to the Singapore market next year, followed by expansion into countries such as the United States and Japan. However, the timeline for this rollout will be contingent on food regulation rules in each respective country.

Arik Kaufman, CEO of Steakholder Foods, highlighted the potential of these sustainable solutions in addressing the growing global demand for seafood.

“We’re excited to be working with Umami Meats to develop 3D-printed structured fish products that have the same great taste and texture as traditionally caught fish, without harming the environment,” Kaufman said. 

He noted that the seafood and fish market, estimated at $110 billion and projected to grow 3-4% annually in the near future, is a key part of their vision to increase food security through sustainable solutions.

One of the major challenges facing lab-grown fish is competing with the pricing of traditionally caught seafood. To address this issue, Steakholder Foods has incorporated plant-based ingredients to reduce the production cost of their fish cells. Although a specific selling price was not confirmed, a spokesman stated that cell-based products would initially be “very expensive.”

Kaufman added, “As time goes by, the complexity and level of these products will be higher, and the prices linked to producing them will decrease.”

The need for more sustainable seafood solutions has become increasingly urgent. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) called for stronger regulation of the seafood sector in response to concerns about its impact on marine species. 

Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, emphasized the importance of protecting the ocean’s resources: “The ocean is the blue heart of our planet, and we ignore its health at our peril. Protecting this precious resource should be the top priority of every single fishery around the world, yet for too long unsustainable practices have gone unchecked, draining the ocean of life.”

The development of the 3D-printed grouper fish product comes as part of a broader push for lab-grown meat in the market. In 2021, German firm Bluu Biosciences announced plans to introduce lab-grown fish balls, fish fingers, and fish tartar to store shelves. In 2022, Caviar Biotec and University College London collaborated to produce ‘clean’ caviar using fish egg sac cells grown in a biochemical liquid.

However, developing lab-grown fish products poses unique challenges, as fish cells have been studied far less than cow stem cells. Mihir Pershad, CEO of Umami Meats, explained the obstacles faced in the field.

“We have to figure out what the cells like to eat, how they like to grow, and there’s just not so much literature to start from,” said Pershad. “The number of scientists, you can imagine, working on fish stem cell biology is a small fraction of those working on animal cells and human cells.”

Despite these challenges, the collaboration between Steakholder Foods and Umami Meats represents a significant step forward in the pursuit of sustainable seafood alternatives. 

This pioneering development in the realm of sustainable seafood not only offers hope for the preservation of marine ecosystems but also showcases the potential of scientific advancements to address pressing global issues. 

As the world grapples with the environmental consequences of overfishing, the creation of 3D-printed lab-grown fish presents a promising solution for a more sustainable future.

More about sustainable seafood

Sustainable seafood refers to fish and shellfish that are caught or farmed in ways that minimize environmental impact, maintain healthy fish populations, and support the long-term viability of ocean ecosystems. The importance of sustainable seafood has become increasingly evident in recent years due to the depletion of fish stocks, overfishing, and the broader consequences these issues have on the health of our oceans and the global food supply.

The depletion of fish in our oceans is a pressing concern for several reasons:

Overfishing

Overfishing occurs when fish are caught at a rate faster than they can reproduce and replenish their populations. This unsustainable practice has led to a decline in numerous fish species worldwide, with some even facing the risk of extinction. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 34.2% of global fish stocks are overfished, threatening the long-term sustainability of these resources.

Loss of biodiversity

Depletion of fish stocks can result in the loss of biodiversity in marine ecosystems. As certain species are overfished, the balance of the ecosystem is disrupted, which can lead to a cascade of negative consequences for other marine organisms and the overall health of the ocean.

Bycatch

Unsustainable fishing practices often involve the unintended capture of non-target species, known as bycatch. This can include marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, and other fish species. Bycatch not only contributes to the depletion of these non-target species but also has broader implications for the health of marine ecosystems.

Habitat destruction

Certain fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, can cause significant damage to marine habitats. This destruction leads to the loss of breeding and feeding grounds for various marine species, further exacerbating the depletion of fish stocks and harming overall marine biodiversity.

Food security

Fish and seafood are essential sources of protein, micronutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids for billions of people worldwide. Depletion of fish stocks and the decline of marine resources threaten global food security, particularly for coastal communities that rely heavily on fishing for their livelihoods and sustenance.

Economic impact

Fishing is a significant industry, providing employment and income for millions of people around the world. Depletion of fish stocks threatens the long-term viability of this industry, leading to potential job losses and economic hardships for many communities.

Promoting sustainable seafood is vital to addressing these concerns and ensuring the long-term health of our oceans and marine life. Some approaches to achieving sustainable seafood include:

  1. Implementing and enforcing sustainable fishing practices, such as catch limits, gear restrictions, and protected marine areas, to prevent overfishing and habitat destruction.
  2. Supporting responsible aquaculture (fish farming) practices that minimize environmental impact, reduce pressure on wild fish stocks, and provide a stable source of seafood.
  3. Encouraging consumer demand for sustainably sourced seafood by raising awareness about the environmental and social consequences of unsustainable fishing practices.
  4. Developing alternative sources of protein, such as plant-based and lab-grown seafood products, to reduce pressure on wild fish stocks and provide more sustainable options for consumers.
  5. Strengthening international cooperation, regulations, and monitoring systems to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which contributes to the depletion of fish stocks and undermines efforts to promote sustainable seafood.

By prioritizing sustainable seafood and addressing the depletion of fish in our oceans, we can help protect marine ecosystems, support food security, and ensure the continued availability of these valuable resources for future generations.

More about lab-grown meats

Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat or cell-based meat, is a type of meat produced by culturing animal cells in a controlled environment. 

This innovative approach to meat production aims to provide a more sustainable and ethical alternative to conventional livestock farming, which is associated with numerous environmental, ethical, and health-related concerns.

The process of producing lab-grown meat involves the following steps:

Cell collection

Scientists harvest a small sample of muscle cells, usually through a biopsy, from a living animal. These cells are usually satellite or stem cells, which have the ability to grow and differentiate into various types of muscle tissue.

Cell cultivation

The harvested cells are placed in a nutrient-rich culture medium that provides essential nutrients, growth factors, and hormones needed for the cells to grow and multiply. The medium typically includes a combination of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and sugars, designed to mimic the natural environment within an animal’s body.

Tissue formation

As the cells multiply, they begin to form muscle tissue. This process can be guided by various methods, such as providing a scaffold or structure for the cells to grow on, which helps the tissue develop the desired texture and structure. In some cases, electrical stimulation may be applied to promote the development of muscle fibers and improve the texture of the final product.

Harvesting and processing

Once the cultured meat has reached a sufficient volume, it can be harvested and processed into various meat products, such as patties, nuggets, or sausages. Depending on the desired outcome, the lab-grown meat may be combined with other ingredients, such as fats, flavorings, and binders, to enhance its taste, texture, and nutritional profile.

Lab-grown meat offers several potential benefits over conventional meat production:

Environmental sustainability

Cultured meat production requires less land, water, and energy compared to traditional livestock farming. It also generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions, making it a more environmentally friendly option.

Animal welfare

Since lab-grown meat does not require raising and slaughtering animals, it eliminates the ethical concerns associated with animal farming and offers a cruelty-free alternative.

Food security

Lab-grown meat can be produced in controlled environments, independent of weather conditions and geographical constraints, providing a more stable and reliable food source.

Health and safety

Cultured meat production can be closely monitored and controlled, reducing the risk of contamination by pathogens or harmful substances. Additionally, lab-grown meat can be engineered to have a healthier nutritional profile, such as lower fat content or enhanced levels of specific nutrients.

Despite these advantages, lab-grown meat faces several challenges, including high production costs, limited consumer acceptance, and regulatory hurdles. 

However, as research and development in this field continue to advance, it is expected that lab-grown meat will become more accessible, affordable, and widely accepted as a viable alternative to traditional meat products in the future.

Image credit: SWNS/Steakholder Foods 

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