Japanese precision instrument maker Shimadzu is developing an automated meat 3D printing system, according to a report by Nation Thailand.
Working with Osaka University and consulting firm Sigmaxyz Inc, Shimadzu would develop a machine capable of producing large quantities of cultured meat, in a production line-like configuration. Through this project, the company aims to find a way to produce meat substitutes by 2025 that results in edible products that not only replicate the texture of the real thing, but also taste better.
Shimadzu’s Meat Printing Ambitions
Founded in Kyoto in 1875, Shimadzu is better known as a manufacturer of analytical, test and measurement instruments, or as a producer of industrial and aeronautical equipment, than for its feats of 3D printing. Despite this, the company is reported to be pursuing the idea of growing artificial meat from animal cells, as a way to develop a humane alternative to killing and eating livestock.
While the nature of the meats Shimadzu is attempting to create has not been revealed, it is believed that much of it will be produced via technology honed at Osaka University. Using this process, it is said to be possible to layer cells in tissues such as muscle, fat and blood vessels, before joining them together to form fibers that look like real meat.
What’s more, the technology is even said to be able to make meat “marbled,” which in the case of the genuine item means it includes white flecks of intramuscular fat that give it extra tenderness and flavor.
By integrating this Osaka-developed process into an automated unit, Shimadzu is said to believe it is possible to grow cells into structures, before testing them for taste and texture on an “assembly line”. While the company also plans to apply the technology in the areas of regenerative medicine and drug R&D, for now it is focused on preparing meat samples ready to be served at the Osaka-Kansai Expo 2025.
Osaka University’s Wagyu Experience
Shimadzu may not have laid out the full process behind its planned meat-printing yet, but it may well tie into the approach developed at Osaka University last year. As part of the project, which was carried out alongside printing specialist Toppan, the researchers managed to 3D print marbled Wagyu beef in a way that was said to be unique, in that it faithfully reproduced the natural texture of the meat.
To achieve this, the Osaka team came up with something they called “tendon gel-integrated bioprinting” or “TIP,” in which tendon-like gels could be built layer by layer into structures. in the shape of a steak. Interestingly, the scientists’ technique also made it possible to integrate different types of tissue into the same food, which ultimately allowed them to better replicate real meat equivalents.
Once the researchers perfected their method, they deployed it to recreate everyday Wagyu beef samples they had imaged and modeled. By layering an array of 72 bovine cell fibers, including those designed for building muscle, fat, and hair, the team found they were able to do this while defining the texture of the resulting meat, and they speculated that it could even be used to adjust the fat content.
At the time, the Osaka-based scientists suggested their process had the potential to help undo some of the environmental damage caused by farming, but since making their breakthrough, which has been covered on the sites news from around the world, little has been heard from Wagyu innovators, suggesting that it may have been just a flash in the pan.
In light of developments at Shimadzu, however, it is now possible (although unconfirmed) that TIP 3D printing could be industrialized and brought to market. Alternatively, if Shimadzu’s project turns out to be based on a different approach to 3D printing, that wouldn’t be surprising as the technology has made huge strides in the last 12 months alone, and it continues to make strides. iterative.
Soon in a store near you?
Although 3D-printed meats aren’t ready to be bought at your local supermarket just yet, the technology behind their production continues to advance, suggesting that it may not be millions of miles away. Late last year, MeaTech announced that it had broken new ground by successfully 3D-printing an entire 3.67oz steak at its lab in Ness Ziona, Israel.
Since then, researchers at China’s Zhejiang University have taken things in a different direction, developing a way to 3D print meat from plant-based gels. The team’s soy protein, pea protein and wheat gluten foods are said to provide a similar level of nutrition to real meat, without incurring the same health and sustainability costs.
In Barcelona, Novameat has also recently developed a new approach to meat production, involving the 3D printing of blue-green algae on steaks. Concocted from animal cells, plant derivatives, fungi and algae, as well as spirulina, a specific type of algae known for its high protein content, the company’s blue steak is designed to push the limits of the technology, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever make it to market.
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The featured image shows a meat sample produced using Osaka University’s 3D printing technology. Image via Nation Thailand news site.