Could lab-grown insect meat be the future of food? These Tufts University researchers believe so
But a group of researchers from Tufts University have proposed a different solution — if you get can get past the gross factor.
The team says that cultured insect tissue could be part of a potential solution to our future food production. Writing in “Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems,” they explain why lab-grown insect meat — fed on plants and genetically modified for maximum growth, nutrition and flavor — could be the green alternative for high volume, nutritious food production.
“Due to the environmental, public health and animal welfare concerns associated with our current livestock system, it is vital to develop more sustainable food production methods,” lead author Natalie Rubio said.
Combined with genetically modified livestock, labriculture and plant-based meat alternatives, the researchers say insect meat could become part of a future solution.
Insect farming requires much less water and space than plant-based substitutes, genetically modified livestock and lab-grown meat, the team wrote, and twice as much of a cricket is edible than of a big-boned, big-bellied cow.
“Compared to cultured mammalian, avian and other vertebrate cells, insect cell cultures require fewer resources and less energy-intensive environmental control, as they have lower glucose requirements and can thrive in a wider range of temperature, pH, oxygen and osmolarity conditions,” Rubio said. “Alterations necessary for large-scale production are also simpler to achieve with insect cells, which are currently used for biomanufacture of insecticides, drugs and vaccines.”
Technology already developed to stimulate the movement of insect tissue for biorobotics could also be applied to food production, since regular contraction may be required for cultured insect muscle to develop a “meaty” texture, the researchers wrote.
But a big question remains — how will it taste?
The short answer, Rubio said, is no one knows.
“Despite this immense potential, cultured insect meat isn’t ready for consumption. Research is ongoing to master two key processes: controlling development of insect cells into muscle and fat, and combining these in 3D cultures with a meat-like texture,” she said. “For the latter, sponges made from chitosan – a mushroom-derived fiber that is also present in the invertebrate exoskeleton – are a promising option.”
In the future, insect meat could even be made to taste like lobster, crab or shrimp due to the evolutionary proximity of insects and crustaceans, Rubio said.