Scientists based in Japan’s Osaka University have found a way to 3D print wagyu beef in a lab — a step they believe will one day help make widely available and sustainably-produced cuts of cultured meat that closely resemble original products.
Using stem cells that they took from wagyu cows, the scientists set out to create a structure with the characteristic marbling (or sashi) seen in wagyu beef that sets it apart from other cuts of beef.
By isolating beef cells, the scientists organized how the muscles, blood vessels, and fat should be stacked. The researchers then shaped these tissues into the form of a steak using a technique called 3D bioprinting, where cell structures can be layered to resemble real tissues in living things.
The researchers believe that proving that a wagyu steak can be accurately 3D-printed could be a big step toward a sustainable future where cultured meat can be created that closely resembles existing products. Its origins from real meat also differentiate it from plant-based options, like those created by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
“By improving this technology, it will be possible to not only reproduce complex meat structures, such as the beautiful marbling (sashi) of Wagyu beef but to also make subtle adjustments to the fat and muscle components,” Michiya Matsusaki, one of the study’s researchers said in a statement.
Michiya Matsusaki, one of the project’s researchers, said that with these adjustments, customers might one day be able to order a cultured cut of meat with the amount of fat they desire, tailor-made to their tastes and health concerns.
Wagyu beef is known to be extremely expensive, with high-grade wagyu fetching prices of up to $200 per pound and adult cows selling for more than $30,000. In 2019, Japan’s wagyu exports raked in a record high of $268.8 million in profits, up 20% from 2018.
While this might be the first cut of wagyu beef ever to be 3D-printed, other attempts have been made to bioprint steaks. In February this year, Aleph Farms and the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology jointly bioprinted and cultivated a ribeye steak using real cow cells.
However, it might be a while before one can sink their teeth into a cut of bioprinted beef. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not created a regulatory framework for these products yet, per The Washington Post.