Cultivate UK: Propelling the UK's cellular agriculture sector
Last week The Cell Base attended Cultivate UK’s event in Bath, UK, the eighth event held by the forum since its conception in 2016.
From expert panels to quickfire poster presentations, break time discussions to legislative predictions, the day was jam-packed full of buzzing conversations covering all corners of the cell-based food industry.
Held below the opulently decorated high ceilings of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, located in Bath's magnificent Grade 1-listed Queen’s Square, the contemporary topic of conversation certainly felt lightyears away from the room's backdrop of Georgian paintings and pillars.
Thomas Vincent, head of food policy at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) stressed that cell-based meat would undergo more scrutiny than other novel food applications. He mentioned that the #FSA is working in the US with the #FDA and with food safety authorities in Canada and Israel to better understand the process of ensuring cell-based foods are safe for human consumption.
New Harvest research fellow and PhD student at the University of Bath, Alice Esperanza, spoke about how she was experimenting with isolating cells from chicken breasts purchased in a local shop. She noted that slaughterhouses – one method of acquiring cells for cell-based meat production – are often located far away from laboratories and that being able to use meat from the shop could potentially speed up the process as well as increase reliability.
William Blackler, senior project engineer at Kayser Space – a company that designs and manufactures hardware to support scientific and technological research in space – told us why there is a need to investigate the potential of cellular agriculture in space. He said, the current approach to space food is prepackaged food that declines in nutrients over time, due to mass and volume limited food can be stored, and that crews often rely heavily on resupplies which is not feasible for interplanetary travel.
He enthused that cell-based meat could help improve food for space missions as producing food in space could result in fresh nutrient-rich produce that is dense with essential amino acids, could reduce the reliance on resupplies and promote self-sufficiency, and that it has a low manufacturing footprint when compared to alternatives such as algae and wheat.
The presentation is part of a wider project by The European Space Agency (ESA) who is supporting researchers to explore the possibility of growing cultured meat to feed astronauts. Two teams were selected to work in parallel; one is composed of UK companies Kayser Space, Cellular Agriculture and Campden BRI, and the other of German startup yuri and Reutlingen University.
Blackler presented the design of a small bioreactor that would fit and function within a spacecraft and identified short-, medium- and long-term knowledge gaps and how to overcome them, and then explained a mission that would help us to understand the bioreactor’s performance in microgravity. Watch this 'space'!
While we debated the out-of-this-world idea of launching bioreactors in space, we also touched base on a new university mapping project, designed to establish a successful and internationally-competitive environment for cellular agriculture in the UK.
Estere Seinkmane of Cellular Agriculture UK (Cell Ag), presented the ‘Mapping the potential for UK universities to become research and teaching hubs for cellular agriculture’ project, a resource aimed at providing an overview and understanding of the existing cellular agriculture academic landscape in the UK and its potential for future growth, identifying key components for the establishment of a cellular agriculture institution, and build an evidence base to support a debate around how the cellular agriculture field could develop within the country.
From the systemic mapping, the researchers observed and highlighted the potential of multiple UK universities to lead the way in research and teaching in cellular agriculture. While known research and technology hubs such as Oxbridge and London universities have a lot of necessary components to also become hubs in this field, they noted that there are also clear positive prospects for cell ag anchor institutions in the Midlands and the north.
The analysis showed that UK universities with high overall potential in cellular agriculture vary considerably in their strengths in different domains. For instance, UCL, Imperial and Cambridge have the strongest bioscience and chemical engineering research, while Nottingham has a dedicated focus on food science and the sustainable future of food specifically; similarly, Nottingham, UCL and Imperial already have ongoing research within cellular agriculture, although focused on different areas, while Cambridge has most extensive targeted initiatives from students and considerable support for spin-outs, but no directly employed scientists working in the field.
Out of the top 17 universities, Cell Ag selected five as case studies, in order to explore the current environment in more detail and understand how close each of them are to becoming anchor institutions for cellular agriculture, if resources are allocated in the appropriate direction.
Those five universities were the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the University of Nottingham, Aston University and the University of Edinburgh.
Such domain-specific mapping could point to opportunities for specialisation (eg. in research, training talent, commercialisation) and for targeted resource allocation to fulfil the full potential of a particular university as a cellular agriculture anchor.
The researchers hope that the findings could serve well to different stakeholders, such as academics looking to start cellular agriculture research programmes, students looking to apply for courses or research projects, companies looking to collaborate with universities, as well as funders and policy-makers.
Overall, the event provided a platform for knowledge sharing, networking and strategic discussions among experts, researchers, students and industry stakeholders interested in the advancement of cellular agriculture in the UK.
Cultivate is a multi-voiced forum intended to support informed dialogue about the emergent field of cellular agriculture from UK perspectives.
The forum was established seven years ago by a small interdisciplinary group of UK professionals – Illtud Dunsford, farmer, agri-food consultant and CEO of Cellular Agriculture, Prof Marianne Ellis, biochemical engineer at the University of Bath, Abigail Glencross, Dr Alexandra Sexton, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow in Geography at the University of Sheffield and Dr Neil Stephens, sociologist and senior lecturer in technology and society at the University of Birmingham.