The Tufts Center for Cellular Agriculture is leading the effort to overcome fundamental technical challenges in the field, develop standards, and share knowledge
Competition drives innovation, but for an industry in its earliest stages of development, one approach is for competitors to join forces to overcome fundamental technical challenges, develop standards, and share knowledge in a way that advances the industry as a whole.
Recently, the Tufts University Center for Cellular Agriculture (TUCCA) announced the creation of the TUCCA Consortium, consisting of industry and nonprofit members, to support research in a field that many consider the future of food.
Cellular agriculture involves creating meat products from the growth of cells in bioreactors. That avoids the need for farm animals, and the associated large swaths of cleared land for farms and substantial demands for feedstock, water, and waste management.
Startups and academic labs have begun to produce cultivated meat grown from cells to replicate lamb, pork, fish, and chicken, but the field of cellular agriculture is still very young. Getting to the point when it can feed millions or even billions of people will require hurdles to be overcome.
These include developing improved processes to rapidly grow and form cells into meat products that have the taste, nutrition, and texture associated with traditional meat and scaling production up for mass consumption.
While the potential for sustainability in cellular agriculture is great, competitors can benefit from sharing knowledge and methods to minimize environmental impacts, finding replacements for all animal-sourced materials, and evaluating the economic and environmental cost of production.
Those are just a few of the areas that the TUCCA Consortium may explore. Consortium members will decide what challenges take priority, and then focus their resources on research to find solutions.
The Consortium’s nine founding members represent companies and nonprofits in cellular agriculture worldwide. They are BioFeyn, Cargill, CellX, the Good Food Institute, MilliporeSigma, ThermoFisher Scientific, TurtleTree, UPSIDE Foods, and Vow.
“We welcome new applicants that wish to join,” said David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts and director of the TUCCA. “Joining us at the table will enable a company or organization with an interest in cellular agriculture to provide input on the projects to be funded by the consortium, and early access to the technology and knowledge that comes out of those projects.” Projects are supported by an annual fee provided by consortium members.
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“The pre-competitive research we do together will help build the foundation of technology for the industry,” said Christel Andreassen, associate director of TUCCA. “These efforts may be outside the main business focus of the individual members, or beyond the scope of capability for any one member to address.”
The consortium will be aided by faculty and resources at several Tufts schools, including the School of Engineering, the School of Arts and Sciences, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy, and the School of Medicine, as well as the Food & Nutrition Innovation Institute at the Friedman School.
Workforce training will be an important goal for the consortium, which will set up an internship program providing undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to work with member companies while honing their knowledge and skills on real world applications.
In 2021, Tufts was awarded a $10 million grant from the USDA to help establish a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture to train the next generation of professionals in the field, and to combine physical, biological, and social sciences toward building a new cellular agriculture industry.
“Tufts University is in a unique position to act as a catalyst for this new industry,” said Bernard Arulanandam, vice provost for research at Tufts. “In addition to our own research in developing cultured meat, we can provide resources to the consortium across multiple fields, from biology and engineering to nutrition and veterinary medicine.”
The grant helped establish TUCCA, along with educational programs at Tufts, Virginia Tech, Virginia State, University of California Davis, MIT, and University of Massachusetts Boston.