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Lab Automation Holds the Key to the Development of the Food of the Future

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The following article is an opinion piece written by Geoff Dance. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Technology Networks.

In recent years, cell-cultured meat has emerged as a groundbreaking achievement in the field of science, holding tremendous promise for the future of food production. Its development has been named as a notable technological advancement that could lead to widespread positive change, garnering the lab-grown meat industry significant attention. Investors are particularly drawn to its climate-positive nature, propelling predictions that the industry will skyrocket to a remarkable $25 billion by 2030.

However, the cell-cultured meat market is still in its infancy and there is work to be done to refine its development. As a brand new industry, there are no “instruction manuals” for production, and scientists are still spending lots of time exploring different cell types to identify the optimal methods for growing and scaling meat cells.

To support these crucial investigations, purpose-designed laboratories that cater to the unique demands of this experimentation are essential. Adaptable, efficient and accessible workflows will be the key to successful cell-cultured meat experimentation – which is why life sciences companies need to look to lab automation.

Flexibility is key

Cell-cultured meat research often involves working with diverse cell types, optimizing growth conditions and exploring various cultivation techniques. So, flexibility is an essential aspect of experimentation for scientists working in this field.

When lab automation is open and integrated, it allows for greater adaptability and customization. Scientists have the flexibility to reprogram and modify automated processes to suit the specific requirements of each experiment. In addition to this, adaptable hardware enables them to easily adjust factors such as temperature, nutrient composition and incubation times, among others, to create the optimal environment for the growth and development of cultivated meat.

This flexible approach to lab automation enables researchers to explore different parameters using the same equipment. This not only reduces the need for additional equipment but also allows experiments to be conducted in more compact laboratories, enabling smaller companies to be just as innovative as established competitors.

Accelerating innovation by optimizing processes

Every scientific process is inherently time-consuming, but in the emerging cell-cultured meat industry, each experiment represents a new journey into the unknown, often requiring significant time investment. A single workflow involves numerous steps, including cell culturing, tissue engineering and bioreactor operation, so scientists must perform multiple workflows with minor adjustments to achieve successful experiments. In an already lengthy process, the use of manual tools further slows down the experimentation.

This is where robotics and automation can play a critical role. While scientists are skilled and talented individuals, manually keeping up with the quality and pace required to conduct large-scale experiments can be impossible. By implementing lab automation, it becomes possible to run assays more quickly and for extended durations, surpassing what scientists can achieve manually. For example, utilizing cloud management software to run assays overnight allows for increased run time enabling scientists to produce a higher number of variations and obtain stronger data.

By embracing automation, scientists can enhance the reliability of their results and draw conclusions faster. Automated processes perform the same task consistently, ensuring that all other variables are controlled when making developments to cell growth and editing. Controlled variables allow scientists to isolate and understand the true effects of the factors being studied, without interference from other unknown factors.

Relieving scientists’ workload

Cell-cultured meat production is a rigorous process that requires long hours in the lab and meticulous attention to detail. Increasing workloads can create a stressful work environment, but automated solutions can give back valuable time to scientists, allowing them to focus on more fulfilling and strategic tasks. Cell-culture research involves large sets of samples, which demand significant time and effort to be fed and analyzed. This can consume a significant amount of lab scientists’ time, but automated systems can be set up to run multiple assays over extended periods, including evenings or overnight, thereby increasing the amount of work that can accomplished.

Human touch points may still be required in some automated processes, while many can run independently without human contact. This frees up “walkaway” time for scientists to focus on more skilled tasks during their working day, attend industry events, improve lab protocol or read up on new advancements in their field. Ultimately, working alongside automation can improve the job satisfaction of scientists.

Automation is the future of experimentation

As the cell-cultured meat industry continues to evolve and expand, it becomes increasingly evident that open and integrated lab automation is the way forward. The potential for this “future food” to revolutionize the way we produce and perceive food is extremely promising. However, to fully unlock this potential, scientists must have access to advanced tools and technologies that facilitate efficient and precise experimentation. Lab automation provides a stable and adaptable foundation for the multitude of research required to advance the industry, promising a more innovative future.

About the author:

Geoff Dance is head of research and development at Automata.