Forget insects and lab meat, the steak of the future will be made… of wood!

Forget insects and lab meat, the steak of the future will be made... of wood!

What if, rather than eating crickets or steak designed under a microscope, we relied on the raw material around us to feed our plate: wood, or rather waste from paper manufacturing. Italian researchers have set themselves the task of extracting proteins from lignin with the aim of designing a new meat… without meat.

The name of the project is unequivocal: “meat from wood”, meaning in the language of Shakespeare “meat from wood”. This is the whole objective of a seemingly futuristic project. It is indeed a question of designing meat while counting on trees. We’ll stop you right away, the idea is not to use more forests to feed our plates of tomorrow, but to better optimize waste from the paper industry. Specifically, we call it lignin, a by-product after paper production and which we generally don’t know what to do with. In fact, this material is often burned.

It is at the heart of this research project funded by the Ministry of University and Research, reports the transalpine daily La Repubblica. A team of researchers has been formed and is led by a professor from the University of Milan-Bicocca, Marco Vanoni. The scientific approach, in which The Protein Factory 2.0 laboratory of the University of Insubria also collaborates, consists of developing new biotechnological processes with the aim of obtaining amino acids and proteins from this waste, which are of economic point of view since they are inexpensive. Researchers are not content with simply exploiting lignin, but also the wheat bran that we obtain when we “peel” the grains of the cereal when making flour. “Scientists want to develop bacterial cells containing all the necessary enzymes to behave as a kind of factory in which vanillin obtained from lignin or wheat bran is transformed into amino acids“, explains La Repubblica, based on the explanations of Elena Rosini from The Protein Factory 2.0 laboratory.

Precision fermentation, development of bovine cells under a microscope, vegetable imitation of a pork tenderloin… We thought we had tried everything to reproduce meat without meat, but we didn’t count on this Italian innovation. One difference all the same: this will do double duty if scientists manage to develop it. By recovering by-waste from the paper industry and wheat bran, it could also be useful in the manufacture of cosmetics, pharmaceutical products and even medicines. According to researcher Elena Rosini, we could even develop new additives and flavor enhancers, but it remains to be seen whether this last application is really necessary…

Still, this project remains surprising, and not only for the originality of its raw material, but also for the fact that the research is carried out in Italy. In the land of pasta and pizza, we do not see very favorably the development of new technologies with the aim of developing foods without resorting to breeding. A year ago, the transalpine government clearly opposed research into laboratory meat. A decision validated by the Italian Senate last November, even though Europe itself has not yet authorized the consumption of laboratory steaks. At the moment, only pets can be fed animal cells stimulated under a microscope.