Possibilities for Engineered Insect Tissue as a Food Source

April 1, 2019

Authors: Rubio, Natalie R.; Fish, Kyle D.; Trimmer, Barry A.; Kaplan, David L.

Keywords: Cellular agriculture, Cultured meat, Sustainable food systems, Edible insects, Insect cell culure, Insect muscle, Tissue engineering, Future foods

Due to significant environmental concerns associated with industrial livestock farming, it is vital to accelerate the development of sustainable food production methods. Cellular agriculture may offer a more efficient production paradigm by using cell culture, as opposed to whole animals, to generate foods like meats, eggs, and dairy products. However, the cost-effective scale-up of cellular agriculture systems requires addressing key constraints in core research areas: (1) cell sources, (2) growth media, (3) scaffolding biomaterials, and (4) bioreactor design. Here we summarize work in the area of insect cell cultures as a promising avenue to address some of these needs. We also review current applications of insect cell culture and tissue engineering, provide an overview of insect myogenesis and discuss various properties of insect cells that indicate suitability for use in food production systems. Compared to mammalian or avian cultures, invertebrate cell cultures require fewer resources and are more resilient to changes in environmental conditions, as they can thrive in a wide range of temperature, pH and osmolarity conditions. Alterations necessary for large-scale production are relatively simple to achieve with insect cells, including immortalization, serum-free media adaptation and suspension culture. Additional benefits include ease of transfection, nutrient density, and relevance to seafood organisms. To advance insect-based tissue engineering for food purposes, it is necessary to develop methods to regulate the differentiation of insect cells into relevant cell types, characterize cell interactions with biomaterials with an eye toward 3D culture, design supportive bioreactor systems and quantify nutritional profiles of cultured biomass.