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Lab-grown food research boosted by new academic post

28 July 2022
Lab-grown food research boosted by new academic post

Two cutting-edge food research entities are combining to form a New Zealand first in advanced science, after an agreement was signed by the Riddet Institute and AgResearch last week. 

The first ever New Zealand Chair in cellular agriculture position has been created, with the new professorship destined for Massey University's Palmerston North campus. The position is to be jointly funded by Massey University and AgResearch.

Cellular agriculture is a new disruptive technology that can create food components and products using animal cell cultures, instead of from animals. The emerging field uses advances in biotechnology and will provide the means to eventually produce protein foods such as dairy or meat-like products in a laboratory, according to AgResearch Science Group Manager Stefan Clerens.

The Riddet Institute is a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), hosted by Massey University, focusing on advanced food research, and AgResearch is a Crown Research Institute specialising in the pastoral and agri-technology sectors. The two entities share the state-of-the art research facility Te Ohu Rangahau Kai in Palmerston North where the new position will be located.

Riddet Institute Director Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh says the new joint role demonstrates the strength of the partnership between AgResearch, the Riddet Institute and Massey University. 

AgResearch’s Dr Clerens says the new professorship will utilise the specialties of both the Riddet Institute and AgResearch to lead the way in this rapidly emerging area of food science.

“We are partners in the CoRE, and partners in the building, so it’s a natural other step to also partner in advanced science and capability building.”

Dist Prof Singh says the field of cellular agriculture is rapidly growing around the world. He says the Riddet Institute already has significant research activity in cellular agriculture but the new role will further build research and training capacity.

“Biotechnologies for producing animal protein-based foods without animals has the potential to significantly disrupt the traditional animal protein industry.

“It is extremely important for New Zealand to develop future capability in cellular agriculture and exploit new commercial opportunities. This position will bring together key expertise and collaborations required to strengthen this research area for New Zealand.”

Dr Clerens says although there are several players in the market trying to produce lab-grown food alternatives, there is limited understanding of the nutritional repercussions of these products.

“We can put the science behind it. We can find out if it is fully digestible and understand the biochemistry and how it all comes together in a structure to deliver functionality for what ever the customer requires,” Dr Clerens says. “We bring a difference. We don’t want to get another burger on the market; we want to focus on the processes and science behind the technology.”

Following the signing of the agreement between the two institutes, the position has now been advertised globally. Dr Clerens says cellular agriculture is still a niche area and only a select few scientists around the world are qualified in the specialty.

** The above statement was originally issued by the Riddet Institute on behalf of Riddet and AgResearch** 

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