It is estimated that between 2010 and 2030, global demand for seafood products will increase by 30%.
At least two major factors are thought to contribute to this growth. The first is the significant growth in world populations. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, the world’s population could increase by more than two billion people, to more than 9 billion.
Another key factor is income growth: as income increases, consumers are more likely to consume more meat.
Unfortunately, the seafood supply is not strong enough to meet this growing demand. Globally, less than 7% of fisheries are underexploited, with the World Bank estimating that nearly 90% of global marine fish stocks are now fully exploited or overexploited.
Bycatch, habitat damage and rising carbon emissions from fishing boats are prompting the Good Food Institute (GFI) – which advocates the development of alternative proteins – to explore new ways the industry can fill the demand gap.
“Getting away from these issues would create a much more respectful and sustainable food system,” According to Claire Bomkamp, senior scientist specializing in seafood grown at GFI.
One potential solution lies in seafood cell technology. Although still in its infancy compared to mammalian cell developments, Bomkamp suggested overcoming some technical hurdles to advance solutions. for sustainable seafood.
Optimization of biomaterials
The GFI has brought together a selection of ideas, ranging from research projects to business opportunities and ecosystem-level interventions, under its Advancing Solutions to Alternative Proteins (ASAP) project platform. Some of them, she told delegates at the recent Industrializing Cell-Based Meats & Seafood event, relate to the cultured seafood sector.
The cell-based meat and seafood production process can be broken down into four steps: cell line development, culture medium, scaffold biomaterials, bioreactors, and bioprocesses. Focusing on scaffolds, Bomkamp suggested that additional innovation could help adapt cultured seafood – and especially cultured fish – to culinary and biomechanical demands.
GFI: WHAT IS SCAFFOLDING?
Scaffolding helps create structure and texture by facilitating the development of muscle, fat, and connective tissue. “In order to produce structured and thick meat products, the cells must be transferred onto a scaffold”, explains GFI. “A scaffold ideally allows cell attachment, differentiation, and maturation in a specified manner, mimicking the 3D cytoarchitecture of meat while allowing continuous media infusion, analogous to the vascularization of real tissues.
“Therefore, considerations of scaffold porosity, mechanical properties and biocompatibility are paramount.”
One consideration is the optimization of biomaterials for cell adhesion and differentiation. In other words, she explained, identifying which materials are “really good” for making scaffolds for fish and other forms of seafood.
The lead scientist bets on most materials used for scaffolding in cultured meat production, which are equally effective for cell-based seafood. However, it’s likely that a small amount of optimization will be required, she continued: “I think you can say [that] with reasonable confidence…”
However, when it comes to invertebrates, such as crustaceans and molluscs, scaffolding technology “could be quite different,” Bomkamp suggested.
Make the fish “flaky”
Achieving the correct thermal stability for collagen is another consideration. This challenge is “quite different” for fish, compared to cultured meat, due to the structure and texture of seafood.
Cooked fish becomes “flaky” because collagen melts at a different temperature than muscle tissue. “I think that’s going to be a really key attribute of successful scaffolding for cultured fish,” explained Bomkamp, “The collagen will have to melt at the right time of cooking.
“Otherwise you’re going to have a product that doesn’t flake, or only flakes when you overcook your fish – which you obviously don’t want to do.”
Ensuring correct 3D geometry, including muscle fiber orientation, is also a challenge worthy of further research.
This means “having the muscle fibers facing the right way,” explained the lead scientist, as well as ensuring that the cultured product – say, a cell-based salmon – reaches the layers synonymous with its conventional counterpart.
Focusing on the fibrous structure of an entire fillet of fish, compared to a terrestrial animal, reveals horizontally oriented fibers assembled in a “flat, wavy structure”. Land animal muscles, on the other hand, have a “long, thin structure,” which “looks a bit like a piece of rope” with fibers twisted together, Bomkamp explained.
Such differences are not an impossible challenge, the cultured seafood expert stressed. “I think there are many ways to imagine achieving this with cultured methods,” but suggested that this leads to certain “additional constraints” related to the realization of the structure of the seafood products.
Cellular farming is just one of the opportunities we will be exploring at our next broadcast event, Climate-smart food. We will discuss a variety of issues, from sustainable sourcing to sustainable consumption and food and agriculture technologies that will support systems transformation.
Acacia Smith, policy manager at the Good Food Institute, will also join our panel to dissect the role of plant-based innovation in the transition to more sustainable consumption.
With the food system now contributing around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, it is clear that business as usual is not an option. So, what needs to change if we want to shift to truly sustainable nutrition? Join us to find out.
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