The National Science Foundation, a United States-based independent federal agency, recently granted the University of California, Davis $3.5 million for cell-based, lab-grown meat research. Awarded to leading faculty members of the university’s Cultivated Meat Consortium—a group of scientists, engineers, educators, and entrepreneurs dedicated to the development of sustainable cell-based meat—the grant marks the first government investment in the cultivated meat sector. Tasked with developing cell-based meat, campus scientists note the university—known for its work in stem cells, biomanufacturing, food science, and chemical engineering—is no stranger to such research, which typically involves cultivating cells in fermenters to produce meat-identical products.   

Over the course of five years, the government-funded research program—led by principal investigator David Block, PhD—aims to address “the compelling and immediate societal problem of finding new potential routes toward feeding a rapidly growing global population … while protecting our environment and limited resources,” the research proposal states. The project aims to establish a foundation for the cultivated meat industry, address problems impeding commercialization, and train future leaders of the growing sector. To achieve these project goals, research will focus on four goals: developing efficient methods for amplifying and differentiating stem cells; establishing a way to grow cells inexpensively in a plant-based, serum-free medium; creating materials and methods for making tissue structures; and conducting life cycle, technical, and economic analyses of cultivated meat. 

The university’s government grant is exemplary of recent increased interest in cell-based meat products. Last year, the Good Food Institute awarded $3 million to universities in the United States, Norway, Israel, and Estonia for cell-based meat research. In the seafood sector, San Diego-based startup BlueNalu unveiled the world’s first cultivated yellowtail tuna last year and has raised $20 million since then for a commercial launch.