The Center will tackle one of the most complex humanitarian crises in decades – the critical need to build a healthy, sustainable, and just food system that meets the nutritional and food security needs of a population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, as well as a doubling of meat consumption in that same time period. Systemic shifts in global food production will require many alternatives for protein production, including plant-based meat analogs, edible insects, and efficiency gains in animal agriculture. Tissue engineering can put cells together to form structures with textures similar to those found in today’s livestock-derived meat. However, a convergence and inclusive systems approach is needed to propel cellular agriculture into a scalable manufacturing industry supporting a more sustainable, nutritious, and healthy food ecosystem. The Center will underpin a future-forward food system that is more secure, sustainable, and equitable for generations to come.      

Cellular agriculture is the cultivation of agricultural commodities from cells rather than whole animals. It includes the production of animal agriculture products through cell culture, tissue engineering, and related biotechnologies. By producing foods (e.g., meat, dairy, eggs) and other commodities (e.g., leather) from cells, rather than the traditional whole animal production, cellular agriculture presents solutions to address the growing demand for high-quality proteins and healthy foods while enabling improvements in food sustainability, food security, and personalized nutrition. Cellular agriculture can be segmented into two main categories: cellular and acellular. Cellular products are composed of cells (e.g., meat, leather), and acellular products are made by cells but not composed of cells (e.g., dairy proteins, gelatin). Cellular agriculture is highly interdisciplinary, requiring convergent expertise and innovations across cell biology, tissue engineering, mechanical engineering, food and nutrition science, computation modeling, and more.

Innovation in cellular agriculture faces key challenges: bioprocess scale and cost, a lack of standards and understanding around safety and nutritional value, available cell types and propagation systems, the role of genetic engineering required or acceptable to consumers, and uncertainty around environmental and economic implications of specific approaches, among other factors. At present, the field is characterized by 100s of start-up companies and established food companies aiming to commercialize cell-based meats, protein-based products (e.g., dairy, eggs), and novel materials (e.g., leather, fur), a handful of decentralized academic efforts, and non-profit organizations that advocate for and fund research in the space. Broadly, the field lacks a strong scientific foundation in peer-reviewed literature, a skilled workforce, a coordinated collaboration between public and private stakeholders, and breakthrough innovations that stand to improve the economic feasibility of relevant technologies.

Tufts University has established this center to accelerate cellular agriculture research. We plan to work closely with students and faculty across disciplines within our ecosystem at Tufts, as well as with other universities and colleges and with industry and regulators, to foster the growth of this burgeoning industry. We aim to provide a solid scientific foundation via published, peer-reviewed data, bring innovation in technology, provide consistency in quality measures to guide the field, and foster workforce development and broader educational impact.

Cellular agriculture drawing