Using Algae to Cultivate Boneless Sea Bass Fillets

Sea Bass fillet

3D printed edible scaffold used to provide structure to cultivated sea bass fillet.

A team of scientists in Portugal plans to use algae to cultivate the meat from sea bass cells, creating a real fish fillet with the same look, taste and texture as conventionally produced sea bass. The cultivated fish would even have the same health benefits — but without the bones or the negative environmental impact. And it will be free from the mercury and microplastics that are often found in fish. The algae used will contain antioxidants, adding to the nutritional value of the finished product by providing additional omega-3 fatty oils.

Algae2Fish is a project being led by Associate Professor Frederico Ferreira from the University of Lisbon’s Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences, with funding from sustainable food NGO the Good Food Institute (GFI). The project team intends to use techniques including 3D printing to create edible scaffolds using material extracted from algae and plants. These will be used to give structure to a product cultivated from fish cells — helping recreate the complex fibrous texture while also contributing to the taste.

Fish stem cells transform into muscle and fat with electrical stimulation. The transformed cells are used to create different ‘bioinks’, using 3D printing to form patterns along the scaffold, recreating the fish’s flavor as well as a fillet’s characteristic alternating stripes of muscle and fat.

The algae will be completely sustainable; it can be grown locally by existing suppliers. Professor Ferreira hopes that if the technique is eventually scaled up and used by food manufacturers, new supply chain industries will be created to provide this raw material, as well as manufacturing and maintaining the specialist equipment needed.

Europe imports three times more seafood than it produces, and global demand for seafood is expected to increase by 5% over the next decade. Nearly half of EU marine habitats have been assessed as either endangered or near threatened, mainly due to pollution, overfishing and aquaculture. Cell cultivated fish can help satisfy growing demand without further harming the ocean’s ecosystems.

“In Portuguese we have a saying — a fish without bones is a problem solved,” said Dr. Ferreira. “This research will create a boneless fillet, which will be very good for kids to eat, but I hope it will also help solve a lot of other problems. If we want everyone to carry on enjoying fish, we can’t continue the deep-sea fishing that causes so much damage to ocean ecosystems.”

The Algae2Fish team was one of 21 from across four continents to successfully apply for GFI’s Competitive Research Grant programme, which funds innovative open access research into plant-based foods, cultivated meat and fermentation.

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