Student team tackling unsustainability of meat industry win Imperial competition
By Joanna Wilson
A team of undergraduate students have developed a new technology to reduce the cost of lab-grown meat and help the industry become more sustainable.
Team MultusMedia scooped the top prize £7,000 in the Faculty of Natural Sciences Make a Difference Competition for their idea.
The team, made up of Cai Linton (Bioengineering), Evan Whooley (Life Sciences), Kevin Pan (Life Sciences) and Réka Trón (Life Sciences), are creating an enabling technology for the clean meat industry.
Lab-grown meat, also known as clean or cultivated meat, works by taking stem cells from an animal and placing them in a nutrient-rich environment to encourage them to grow. This could offer a more ethical and environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional meats.
Currently the clean meat industry is doing this by growing meat produce in bioreactors, vessels that carry out biological reactions, instead of using animals. The growth medium used to encourage the cells to grow however is usually very expensive and is harvested from pregnant cows, therefore has both financial and ethical issues.
Reducing environmental effects
To tackle this the team are addressing one of the main barriers preventing this industry being economically viable – the growth medium used to nourish and grow the cells. While cultured meat has been around for a number of years, it is usually very expensive.
MultusMedia’s animal-free culture medium is based on genetically engineered yeast that produces mammalian cell growth factors. These are substances such as vitamins or hormones which are required for the stimulation of growth in living cells. Because they don’t use live animals, this means that they reduce their climate impact to near zero and keep their growth medium animal-free.
The team’s aim with the project is to bring down the cost of cultured meat and tackle the unsustainability of using livestock to produce meat – “we want to provide products people know and love, without the environmental impact,” the team said.
Impact on society
The FoNS-MAD competition tasks three teams of undergraduate students with developing low-cost technology solutions which will have an impact on society. From tackling battery recycling to using the gut microbiome to predict disease, this year’s participants are spent eight weeks turning their ideas into proof-of-concept prototypes.
Each team was been given lab-space, funding, and guidance from academic mentors as they competed for prizes of up to £6000. The VIP judges included Professor Lord Robert Winston, Professor Sir John Pendry, Dominique Kleyn, Dr Ruth Allan and Dr Allan Samuel.
The competition is open to all undergraduate students from the Faculty of Natural Sciences and to team members from other Faculties.