Announcing New Harvest’s 2021 Grantees

In 2021, New Harvest welcomed 10 new grantees to our research community, bringing our total number of active researchers to 30. Here’s a sneak peak of what they’re working on.

Published July 29, 2021 | Updated August 3, 2021 | Breanna Duffy

bitmojis of all active New Harvest grantees as of 2021

Research Fellows

Our flagship program — providing graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with the additional support they need to pursue agricultural applications of what is traditionally medical research.

Dawne Skinner: Designing waste out of the supply chain at Dalhousie University

Dawne is developing a circular economy model for cellular agriculture. She will be identifying synergies between unlikely actors like traditional farms and speculative meat breweries, figuring out how leftover crops, for example, can provide raw inputs for cell culture media. Now is an ideal time to identify these opportunities, in advance of companies investing in production facilities!

Frea Mehta: Engineering self-assembling cells at the Technical University of Munich

Typically, signals in the body instruct cells to form the patterns of muscle and fat that give meat its taste and texture. When cells are cultured outside the animal, however, those instructions are missing — forcing scientists to resort to complex and expensive strategies to direct cells where to go. Frea is engineering cells that will self-assemble into the right spatial arrangement for meat.

Irfan Tahir: Making seaweed scaffolds at the University of Vermont

Irfan is using a plant-based material derived from seaweed, called alginate, to create hydrogel scaffolds for cultured meat. He intends to fine-tune the scaffold to mimic a cell’s natural environment in the body, creating ideal conditions for muscle growth and eventual tissue formation.

Mia Keyser: Designing better growth factors at the University of Colorado Boulder

Growth factors account for over 90 percent of cell culture media costs. Mia is designing synthetic growth factors to be more potent, easier to produce, and long-lasting in media. If scalable, Mia’s growth factors could be way more efficient than what is currently available, dramatically lower the cost of producing cultured meat.

Dissertation Awardees

Designed for newcomers — to help graduating PhD students who discovered cellular agriculture late in their career learn how to apply their training to this new discipline.

Bianca Datta: Fine-tuning sensory details

During her PhD at MIT, Bianca studied how vibrant colors in a butterfly wing come from structural color rather than the ordinary pigmented color we see in our day-to-day life. Bianca will now use New Harvest’s dissertation award to apply those findings to improve the color and texture of cultured meat.

Varsha Rao: Optimizing fat production at the University of Colorado Boulder

During her PhD, Varsha studied how materials can direct the behavior of stem cells to repair bone fractures. Now, she will use New Harvest’s dissertation award to study how those same materials can direct stem cells to turn into adipose. Varsha’s work should accelerate the efficient production of fat, a key contributor to meat’s mouthfeel which is famously difficult to produce from cells grown in standard culture.

Seed Grantees

Short term grants — to help undergraduate and master’s level students get their feet wet with mini, exploratory cultured meat projects.

Ashton Davis: Integrating growth factors with scaffolds at University of California, Los Angeles

When growth factors are floating freely in media, only a certain percent end up floating past the target cells. By attaching growth factors to scaffolds, Ashton is strategically placing them right where they’re needed most—next to the cells! Ashton’s technique could be a novel way to reduce excess and shave costs for one the most expensive inputs of cultured meat.

Brodie Peace: Accelerating muscle formation at the University of Melbourne

Nitric oxide is a compound naturally produced by an animals’ body when they exercise. Brodie is investigating whether nitric oxide can be used as a culture additive to accelerate muscle growth in culture. If it works, Brodie’s technique could drastically reduce the time it takes to produce a given amount of meat. More meat in less time!

Nina Strasky: Stretching muscle cells at McGill University

Nina is researching how stretching muscle cells can improve their growth — just like stretching and exercising our own muscles help them grow. Nina’s approach could reduce the amount of expensive growth factors needed to coax meat cells to grow into muscle tissue.

Shravya Mukka: Creating edible scaffolds at Pennsylvania State University

Shravya is using electrospinning techniques to form highly aligned scaffolds which mimic the structure of meat. She is experimenting with producing these scaffolds exclusively from edible, GRAS certified food additives like starch, pullulan, and whey.

About the Authors
Breanna Duffy is Research Operations and Outreach Director at New Harvest