Building starch backbones for lab-grown meat using Lego pieces

March 26, 2019

A new technique to spin starch fibers using Lego pieces could have future applications for lab-grown "clean" meat, according to a team of food scientists from Penn State and the University of Alabama.

"There's a lot of interest in natural fibers," said Gregory Ziegler, professor and director of graduate studies, Department of Food Science at Penn State. "Starch is one of the least expensive natural fibers out there. Nobody had been able to electrospin pure starch fibers before. But we figured out a way to do that using this wet electrospinning technique."

To produce fine starch fibers using electrospinning, electricity is applied to a starch solution as it dispenses from a nozzle. The electrical field that forms between the nozzle and a rotating collection drum draws the starch into long threads. In wet electrospinning, the drum is submerged in a bath of alcohol and water to help congeal the fibers.

In a study recently published in Food Hydrocolloids, the researchers built an inexpensive electrospinning device partially using the popular children's toy Lego.

"The reason we chose Lego is we're going to have water and ethanol in there and we don't want the device to be conductive," said Ziegler. "The plastic was perfect."

By altering the drum rotation speed and the amount of ethanol in the electrospinning bath, the researchers optimized fiber alignment in the starch mats. They also found that mats with better aligned fibers were stronger than those with a crisscrossed array.

Starch fiber mats have potential biomedical and food applications, including for lab-grown "cultured" meat. Cultured meat is reported to use less land, water and antibiotics to produce compared to traditional farming practices, and according to Ziegler, there is growing interest in such meat.

To culture meat, animal muscle cells are cultivated in a nutrient-rich broth. If no structural support is provided, the cells grow without organization and resemble ground beef. It is more challenging to grow a steak-like product because the muscle cells must grow on a scaffold of appropriate size and alignment to form the characteristic texture consumers expect of a filet mignon or T-bone.

Now, natural starch fiber mats could provide scaffolds for growing meat cells.

"We've been able to align our scaffolding that could grow aligned muscle cells," said Ziegler. "A lot of scaffoldings that have been put out there for biomedical applications have synthetic plastic fibers. Who wants to eat plastic, right? Even if it's biodegradable, people don't want plastic in their meat. Here we have starch, and it just comes from corn. The idea is we could make a nice edible clean scaffold for our clean meat."

Ziegler says the next step is to test if muscle cells will grow on the starch mats and whether they develop in alignment with the fibers.

The researchers are exploring ways to make starch fibers in specific patterns using 3D-printing technology. They also plan to scale up their equipment to produce larger quantities of the fibers.
-end-
This paper was originally published in December 2018 ahead of print in the May 2019 issue of Food Hydrocolloids.

Other researchers working on the project were Hui Wang, doctoral student in food science at Penn State and Lingyan Kong, assistant professor of human nutrition and hospitality management at the University of Alabama.

Penn State

Related Water Articles from Brightsurf:

Transport of water to mars' upper atmosphere dominates planet's water loss to space
Instead of its scarce atmospheric water being confined in Mars' lower atmosphere, a new study finds evidence that water on Mars is directly transported to the upper atmosphere, where it is converted to atomic hydrogen that escapes to space.

Water striders learn from experience how to jump up safely from water surface
Water striders jump upwards from the water surface without breaking it.

'Pregnancy test for water' delivers fast, easy results on water quality
A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Something in the water
Between 2015 and 2016, Brazil suffered from an epidemic outbreak of the Zika virus, whose infections occurred throughout the country states.

Researchers create new tools to monitor water quality, measure water insecurity
A wife-husband team will present both high-tech and low-tech solutions for improving water security at this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle on Sunday, Feb.

The shape of water: What water molecules look like on the surface of materials
Water is a familiar substance that is present virtually everywhere.

Water, water everywhere -- and it's weirder than you think
Researchers at The University of Tokyo show that liquid water has 2 distinct molecular arrangements: tetrahedral and non-tetrahedral.

What's in your water?
Mixing drinking water with chlorine, the United States' most common method of disinfecting drinking water, creates previously unidentified toxic byproducts, says Carsten Prasse from Johns Hopkins University and his collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley and Switzerland.

How we transport water in our bodies inspires new water filtration method
A multidisciplinary group of engineers and scientists has discovered a new method for water filtration that could have implications for a variety of technologies, such as desalination plants, breathable and protective fabrics, and carbon capture in gas separations.

Source water key to bacterial water safety in remote Northern Australia
In the wet-dry topics of Australia, drinking water in remote communities is often sourced from groundwater bores.

Read More: Water News and Water Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.