WhatisCultivatedMeat.com is peer-reviewed by a team of academic and industry experts who serve as technical advisors for the website's content. Dr. Ricardo Gouveia, a postdoctoral research associate of medical sciences at Newcastle University, is one of these advisors. Here Dr. Gouveia discusses his experiences in the cultivated meat industry and sheds light on its future.
When did you first hear about cultivated meat?
Like many people, I first became aware of this field when Professor Mark Post presented his in vitro burger to the public back in 2013. Despite finding it very interesting at the time, I had no plans to work in the cultivated meat space. This opportunity only arises much later in 2018, when I understand that much of my research in tissue engineering and biomedicine could equally be applied to (re)create cultivated meat.
How did you end up working with cultivated meat? What drew you to this field?
In 2018 I was the first-ever postdoc awarded with a New Harvest Research Fellowship, with a project aiming at repurposing several tissue engineering processes I developed previously for biomedical applications to the (re)creation of structured cultivated meat instead. This was for me an exciting new field of activities, with very different and very specific challenges, but also with an immense potential impact.
What Opportunities did the New Harvest Fellowship provide you?
The New Harvest Research Fellowship was instrumental in my journey to become an independent scientist. It provided me with the freedom to come up with brand new ideas, the time and resources to explore them scientifically, and the scope to apply the resulting discoveries into academic and industrial outputs.
What projects are you working on?
Currently I am developing a new class of cell culture media supplements capable of enhancing cultivated meat production without the need of using animal sera in the process. We call these City-mix™ supplements, and they can be added to the most common medium formulations currently used by researchers and companies to grow muscle and fat cells.
What do you see in the near future for cultivated meat and alternative proteins in general?
I think more and more people are becoming aware of alternative protein sources, and the positive impact these can have on human nutrition and the environment. This change really motivates scientists, researchers, and industrialists like me to continue refining the technologies necessary to support this field and to develop new and better products.
What will the world look like when cultivated meat becomes mainstream? What do you see as the primary benefits of this product?
Cultivation is the next logical step in the process of mass meat production, with the huge advantage that it will not necessarily involve the intensive farming of animals. That goal alone makes this field worthwhile; but I can foresee other very substantial benefits, including benefits to the environment (for example, by reducing current pressures to ecosystems) and human nutrition (by strengthening food security).
What are the biggest road bumps or blocks in bringing cultivated meat to the dinner table?
Production at scale. Presently, you need to produce about 300 million tons of meat per year to feed the whole world – this is more than 100 times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza! This represents an enormous challenge that needs to be addressed before cultivated meat can become an accessible and affordable food source. Furthermore, companies are currently the great drivers of innovation in this area; but to succeed, this space also requires wide public recognition and support. This means that vast public and governmental funding into cultivated meat research is now required to build upon our early successes and continue creating momentum in this field.
What can the average person do to support the future of cultivated meat?
As individuals, we can be immensely supportive by just learning, sharing, and discussing more about cultivated meat and the technologies behind it. I believe that cultivated meat acceptance can only be achieved if we have a clear, demystified conversation about the pros and the cons of what it involves. As member of a community or as a citizen, though, the average person has the power to demand and drive action, and this can be translated into fixing the current deficit in public projects in this area.
What advice do you have for students interested in working with cultivated meat and other alternative proteins as a career?
New subjects can always be somewhat of a gamble, but they also provide great opportunities! If you really want to work in cultivated meat and alternative proteins then my advice is to invest in acquiring the relevant skills, either through formal education in STEM courses or perhaps by joining one of the many nascent companies in this area. Sure, most of the relevant skills require advanced technical and scientific expertise and involve many years of learning and training. However, this will also provide you with a strong background that can easily be applied to other high-tech subjects – in the very, very, VERY small chance you change your mind later in the game!
- Ricardo Gouveia, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Associate of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University
See Dr. Ricardo's bio, podcasts, and publications here.