Researchers from the University of Bath created an affordable lab system that uses grass blades to turn cells into cultured meat.

There are many challenges when finding a scaffold suitable for growing cells. The scaffold’s surface must be one that cells can readily attach to. It also must allow the cells to multiply and align in a specific way that mimics the fibers of natural tissue. To scale up the process, the scaffold must also be cost-effective and easy to manufacture. The team’s grass blade method fills all of these criteria.Aligned myotubes (cylindrical cells found in muscle fiber) growing on grass.Source: Allan ScottAligned myotubes (cylindrical cells found in muscle fiber) growing on grass.Source: Allan Scott

The researchers used grass from their own campus to create a scaffold for animal cells to attach to and grow on. The tissue has the potential to be used to create lab-made meat and human muscle to repair or replace damaged or lost tissue.

The bioengineering process starts with emptying grass blades of their native cells in a process called decellularization. The decellularized blades are then seeded with a set of cells from mice. The team notes that bovine stem cells would eventually be used. The cells introduced to the scaffold’s surface multiply and form links with neighboring cells. Eventually, this grows as a cell mass to form new 3D tissue.

Adhesion of stem cells to the grass surface was around 35%, and while this seems low, it is actually considered a good result. The grass doesn’t need chemical modification to achieve this adhesion, which is a major step forward. The team is currently looking for ways to improve adhesion.

The next challenge is to scale up the process to generate enough quantities of cells and scaffold materials for widespread production.

A paper on this research was published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part A.