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Cloudy with a Chance of Wagyu Beef

How do you like your steak cooked? Rare, medium, or 3D printed?

In the film “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” the “Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator,” or the FLDSMDFR, is designed to convert water molecules into food molecules, generating whatever meal your heart desires. While there is no technology to convert water into food, there is technology to convert cells into food. We are talking about three-dimensional (3D) printing.

In recent years, 3D printing has been adopted by various industries, making it much more accessible. In brief, 3D printing deposits material layer by layer to form a three-dimensional product. Originally used mostly for product prototyping and modeling, this technology is quickly expanding to fit other fields as the inventory of printable materials continues to grow.

A team of scientists at Osaka University developed a method to “print” a 3D meat alternative using cells isolated from Wagyu cows. Steaks from these cows are famous for their high intramuscular fat levels, giving that distinct marbled effect and rich fatty flavour. First, scientists collected bovine satellite cells (bACs) and bovine adipose-derived stem cells (bADSCs), both of which were chosen because they are “multipotent”, which means that they have the potential to develop into more than one cell type. Next, bACs and bADSCs were suspended in an edible gelatin and gellan gum-based hydrogel to form cell fibers which subsequently differentiated into skeletal muscle, adipose tissue, and blood capillary fibres. Now we have the three tissue types that just need to be deposited into steak-form. Using the histological structure of Wagyu beef as the template, the team arranged the muscle, fat, and blood vessels into an arrangement replicating the structure of the steak. Ta-da, a luxury meal is printed!

For their study, the scientists used a ratio of fat to muscle that is found in coveted Wagyu steaks, however, they noted that the ratio can be easily altered to the consumers’ preferences based on taste and nutrition. While we are still a ways from printing a steak in your kitchen, the production of cultured meat does have many implications economically, ethically, and environmentally. All in all, it’s a customizable 3D-printed meal, like the FLDSMDFR — just with cells as the building blocks, instead of water.

Other innovative advancements in 3D printing are found in the healthcare industry. Another study at Osaka University combines various 3D techniques to fabricate cardiac tissue with near-native structure, orientation, and vascularization. The researchers incorporated successful methods from similar studies noting one common drawback: none report the fabrication of a tissue that is both correctly oriented and vascularized. Nearly all human tissue is structurally and functionally specialized, making it challenging to produce synthetically. Specifically, the heart requires thick blood vessels and a particular structure in order to function properly. To be used practically, the printed organ must mimic the physiology of the human heart exactly. By combining the successful elements of each study, Tsukamoto and his team were able to put the pieces of the puzzle together to fabricate a tissue that exhibits similar reactivity to human hearts. These findings are pivotal in the advancement of organ printing; it provides a material with which scientists can create a functional heart. The fabrication of functional cardiac tissue opens doors for the development of medical therapies, drug testing, and regenerative medicine. This technology could be further specialized to print live organs and tissues for transplantation, thus mitigating the challenges associated with organ donation.

One day, printing anything from your steak dinner to a new heart may be as easy as clicking Ctrl + P.


Cat Wang recently graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in the anatomy and cell biology program.

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