Scientists Create First 3-D Printed Wagyu Beef

The cultured cut matches the texture and marbling of the famous Japanese meat

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Scientists recreated the famous beef, which is prized for its fat marbling, or sashi. H. Alexander Talbot via Wikimedia Commons under [CC BY 2.0]

Scientists in Japan successfully 3-D printed a cut of Wagyu beef that looks just like the real thing. The team at Osaka University in Japan used three dimenstional bioprinting to replicate the cut's specific arrangement of muscle, fat and blood vessels. They hope lab-grown meats could provide a more sustainable—and delicious—alternative to traditionally-raised beef.

“By improving this technology, it will be possible to not only reproduce complex meat structures, such as the beautiful sashi [or marbling] of Wagyu beef, but to also make subtle adjustments to the fat and muscle components,” study co-author Michiya Matsusaki said in a statement.

The study, published last month in Nature Communications, is the first to attempt bioprinting Wagyu beef—an expensive cut prized for its tenderness, flavor and delicate fat marbling. Like traditional 3-D printing, bioprinting uses a computer-generated model that deposits layers of material to create a final three-dimensional project. But unlike standard methods which use materials like plastic or metal, 3-D bioprinting stacks living cells to build complex structures like blood vessels and muscle tissue.

This new beef isn’t the first bioprinted cut of cow—an Israeli company unveiled their 3-D printed ribeye steak earlier this year—but Wagyu posed a specific challenge, according to Insider’s Cheryl Teh. The team needed to recreate the Wagyu's signature intramuscular fat content, known more commonly as fat marbling or sashi.

To create the manufactured meat, scientists used two types of stem cells from specific breeds of Waygu cows, reports Victor Tangermann for Futurism. By manipulating the stem cells, they could coax them into every type of cell needed to culture the meat. The individual fibers of muscle, fat and blood vessels were bio-printed in layers that replicated a perfect Waygu cut.

“Using the histological structure of Wagyu beef as a blueprint, we have developed a 3-D-printing method that can produce tailor-made complex structures, like muscle fibers, fat and blood vessels,” study co-author Dong-Hee Kang said in a statement.

No one has tasted the beef, so the meat’s flavor performance remains to be seen, reports Lauren Rouse for Gizmodo Australia. More studies are needed before anyone is green-lighting cooking or eating it. Because earlier experiments with cultured meats have grown largely unstructured cuts, the team hopes this high-controlled printing method can improve lab-grown meat texture, too. Theoretically, a customizable meat printing method means scientists could create tastier, more tender cuts of beef than exist today.

The scientists hope their 3-D printed meat will be an appealing option for those looking to reduce their reliance on livestock, which currently accounts for around 15 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Though lab-made Wagyu beef could be a more sustainable alternative to traditionally raised meat, the high cost of production and limited regulatory oversight means it won’t be available on supermarket shelves any time soon.

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