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Penn State podcast focuses on "lab-grown meats" and farms of the future

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The latest episode of the "Growing Impact" podcast features Josephine Wee, an assistant professor of food science in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. She is a food scientist with expertise in mycology and fungal biology. Her work involves the study of mushrooms, yeast and mold. On the podcast, Wee discusses her work with cellular agriculture and explains how lab-grown meat may be a better alternative to large-scale commercial meat production. Her seed grant project is titled “Development of Innovative Materials and Technology for Cellular Agriculture.”

The goal of this project is to use cellular agriculture to develop new biomaterials for use in food, according to Wee. To do this, Wee and her team are investigating fungal mycelium as the platform to grow animal muscle cells and produce lab-grown meats.

“Food production by means of traditional agriculture accounts for one of the highest contributions to environmental impact and resource usage,” Wee said. “One of the challenges to traditional livestock agriculture is that it is not sustainable moving forward. When we look at land use, water use, energy consumption, production of greenhouse gases — those are some very tangible challenges that are facing traditional livestock agriculture.”

In a "farm of the future," animal muscle cells are grown in fermentation vessels to form complex muscle proteins. When compared to traditional livestock agriculture, cellular agriculture can offer alternative sources of protein-rich foods with shorter supply chains and lower greenhouse gas emissions while using less land, water, and energy. (Illustration: Brenna Buck - All Rights Reserved)

Wee said additional benefits of lab-grown meats are a shortened supply chain and products that are free from antibiotics.

“There has been a lot of push back from consumers wanting clean-label meat, wanting to know where their food comes from,” Wee said. “Imagine if you could control this by growing these cells in large vessels without the need to add antibiotics.”

Lab-grown meat also would provide opportunities to locate meat-production labs, or “farms of the future,” in the middle of large urban areas, shortening the supply chain by providing meat products locally.

Picky eaters need not fear. Wee said that as a part of this work, sensory scientists and food chemists compare lab-grown meat products to natural meat to examine the chemistry as well as how it cooks, smells and tastes.

"Growing Impact" is a podcast by the Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE). It features Penn State researchers who have been awarded IEE seed grants and discusses their foundational work as they further their projects. The podcast is available on multiple platforms, including Apple, Google, Amazon and Spotify.

Listen to the podcast here.

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