U.S – In a study by researchers at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center and the Texas A&M University Department of Food Science and Technology, new concerns have been raised about the safety of cell-based seafood.

The study focused on the potential for microplastic contamination in cultivated meat products, a critical issue as these novel foods edge closer to commercial availability.

Cell-based, or “cultivated,” meat, represents a significant innovation in food technology, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional meat production by growing edible animal tissue from cells in a lab setting.

This approach has garnered attention worldwide, with regulatory bodies in countries like the U.S., Australia, and the UK working alongside the industry to ensure these new products meet stringent safety standards before hitting the market.

However, the production environment for cell-based meats—primarily laboratory settings where plastic equipment is ubiquitous—may be a source of microplastic contamination.

The study underlines the inherent risk posed by the degradation of various plastic instruments used in the cultivation process, such as bioreactors, pipettes, and cell culture flasks. Given that the source cells for seafood products often come from marine animals already at risk of microplastic exposure, the concern is not trivial.

The researchers conducted experiments using Atlantic mackerel skeletal muscle cell lines, exposing them to fluorescent polyethylene microspheres sized 10–45 micrometers (µm) to simulate microplastic contamination.

They assessed the impact of these microplastics on key cellular processes, including cell proliferation, viability, gene expression, and differentiation— all critical for the successful production of cell-based meats.

The findings are significant, demonstrating that even low concentrations of microplastics (1 μg/mL, 10 μg/mL, and 50 μg/mL) can adversely affect cell attachment and proliferation. Most notably, the concentration of 10 μg/mL showed the most significant impact on cell viability during both the attachment and proliferation phases, underscoring the sensitivity of cellular processes to microplastics.

The authors call for further research to fully understand the extensive effects of microplastics on cellular systems.

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