Previously, we discussed the importance of using muscle stem cells (also known as myosatellite cells) for cultured meat. However, there are actually many other types of mammalian stem cells available, including the highly versatile embryonic stem cells. Why is it then, that only muscle stem cells are widely used for making cultured meat, while these other stem cells are left unused for the process? Let us answer this question for you today.
In this article, we will fixate our comparison between embryonic stem cells and myosatellite stem cells to explain why the latter is preferred.
Embryonic stem cells
Embryonic stem cells are known to be pluripotent, which means that they can either divide infinitely into more stem cells or become any type of cell in the body (1). Such versatility, as we know, is actually extremely useful for making cultured meat. Imagine creating a steak with just embryonic stem cells as it divides into all the cells necessary for the process. Wouldn’t that be much more convenient than using individual stem cells for muscle, fat and other parts of the meat?
Sadly, it’s never that easy when it comes to embryonic stem cells. As mentioned, embryonic stem cells have the ability to become any cell type in the body, including becoming muscle stem cells, fat stem cells, blood stem cells, etc. Ironically, although this versatility is its advantage to play a vital role in making cultured meat, it is also its disadvantage. Due to its versatile nature, the cell lines have to be extremely well characterised in order for the embryonic stem cells to differentiate into the required specialised cells (2). If there is a slight deviation in the conditions, the embryonic stem cells might convert into another cell type (such as blood stem cells) instead of muscle stem cells, causing the whole production process to fail.
A solution to this problem is to integrate the process of stem cell differentiation. It helps to ensure that the embryonic stem cells differentiate into muscle stem cells only. However, when a specific cell type is required, it is a tedious process to keep only the wanted cell types and remove the other unwanted cell types from cultures used during the procedure (3). Hence, this is known to be an extremely difficult process cultured meat researchers would like to avoid, including Gaia Foods.
Gaia Foods’s choice — myosatellite cells
Due to the considerations above, Gaia Foods has chosen to go along with myosatellite cells, adipocytes or other terminal stem cells, that have already been designated with the purpose of becoming muscles, fat or type of tissue in the body. As they have already undergone the differentiation to become muscle or other stem cells from embryonic stem cells under natural conditions, the only differentiation that Gaia Foods has to oversee and manage is the differentiation to myotubes, which will go on to become myofibre and hence muscle tissues or other tissues required for cultured meat.
This differentiation is much easier to manage as compared to that of embryonic stem cells, which can be rather unpredictable at times.
A journal article featured in Meat Science has discussed about the possibilities of using induced pluripotent porcine stem cells (iPSCs) in the future for cultured meat generation (3). However, at the time of writing, the authors have noted that no bio-artificial muscles with myotubes derived from iPSCs have been made yet, though the analysis proved that they are capable of myogenic differentiation and repairing of muscle injury (4), which is the same function of myosatellite cells. As researchers continue on to improve on current processes and technology, there might be a day when other types of cells can be relied upon for cultured meat production. However, for now, we will just depend on our terminal stem cells to get clean meat onto our plates.
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- Mayo Clinic. (2019, June 8). Stem cells: What they are and what they do. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bone-marrow-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117
- Bella Vista International Foundation. (n.d.). Types of stem cells and their uses. Retrieved from Bella Vista International Foundation: https://www.bellavista.ngo/de/2017/07/17/types-of-stem-cells-and-their-uses/#E
- Bio-Rad. (n.d.). Differentiation of Stem Cells. Retrieved from Bio-Rad: https://www.bio-rad.com/en-sg/applications-technologies/differentiation-stem-cells?ID=LUSR2L8UU#:~:text=Stem%20Cell%20Differentiation-,As%20with%20culturing%20stem%20cells%2C%20methods%20of%20differentiation%20depend%20on,of%20the%20cells%20be%20confirmed
- Post, M. J. (2012). Cultured meat from stem cells: Challenges and prospects. Meat Science, 297–301.