Excell-ing in the lab with Ecovative Design’s Mycelium Biofabrication Platform
Supporting your next-gen cell culture needs with Excell.
NOTE: This blog post was initially written January 21, 2020 and contains information that may be out of date.
LIFT, RINSE, COUNT, SEED, REPEAT.
This is the mantra that biologists come to live by when growing cells in the lab. Cell culture is a primary means of testing biological systems in vitro or under controlled conditions outside of the natural environment. It is by no means a trivial process, can be very time consuming, and quite costly when considering the never-ending repeat orders of bulk lab plastic consumables historically used to simulate the proper environment. The current non-traditional scaffolding products like hydrogels and ceramic scaffolds also complicate the matter. Hydrogels typically degrade over time and will not be a component of the final product. Ceramic and synthetic material scaffolds conversely need to be removed; both instances are expensive, don’t scale, and pose handling conundrums.
So, how about taking a natural approach to solving this problem that lends itself to an eventual edible product? Mycelium mitigates the above concerns as a biocompatible, edible, and affordable material able to generate complex 3D structures that support the growth of a wide range of cell types. Ecovative is launching its Excell™ Culture Kit which enables new cell culture applications in the alternative meat industry with a mycelium-based cell culturing scaffold. What better way to grow food…than on ‘food’?
WHAT’S CELL CULTURE ALL ABOUT?
Specific culturing conditions vary immensely based on the type of cells being grown and the types of experimentation that the cells will be subjected to. The general process involves a surface of which the cells can adhere to, the media or nutrient supplements that promote growth, and an incubator to facilitate a controlled environment. While there are some cells that are happy floating around like buoys in the sea, many cell types used in research prefer and require something to anchor to. This is because these cells are typically derived from human or animal tissues that are part of a larger biological system and are programmed to grow best when attached to neighboring cells. 3D spatial orientation is a critical element in cellular differentiation. Significant portions of annual research budgets are allocated towards the consumable products that are purpose-built to grow cells, keep them alive, and help them proliferate, all for the purpose of recreating the native tissue environment in the lab setting.
HOW DO CELLS GROW OUTSIDE OF THE BODY?
Both two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) cell culture are possible and currently in use. 2D culture typically employs the use of a petri dish or the equivalent. The flooring of the dish which can receive a special coating to mimic body-like tissue conditions for the cells to anchor to, thrive and replicate substantially enough to yield enough to test multiple experimental samples and conditions. When it comes time to collect cells for use in an experiment, a scientist will use an enzyme or physical means to ‘lift’ or detach cells from the growth surface. Subsequent steps involve rinsing away the residual nutrient supplement, counting how many cells have grown in total, collecting what is needed for an experiment, and seeding or adding the remainder back to a new dish or container to start the growth process anew. This process of growing cells to amplify numbers in an initial culturing environment, only to subsequently transfer to a different setting for the experimental testing is tedious as it is a routine, often weekly practice.
BUT WHAT IF THE CELLS COULD BE GROWN IN A MANNER THAT INCORPORATED THE GROWTH SURFACE INTO THE EXPERIMENT?
This is when 3D culture especially comes into play. 3D tissue culture involves the use of a scaffold infrastructure that is porous and of which cells can grow both on and into.
AND WHAT IF YOUR INTENTION IS TO GROW LAB-BASED ALTERNATIVE MEAT?
Enter the Excell™ Scaffold Culture Kit! Ecovative is offering Excell™ Scaffold beta 1.2 material to its current collaborative customer base as a limited release. The kit includes 0.5 grams of porous mycelium biopolymer for exploratory use in the alternative meat space as a cell culture scaffold; both pre-cut scaffold circular sections sized for standard lab test plates, as well as strips of material for customization.
Our user guide details how to get started using the Excell™ scaffold as a means to grow adherent cells such as avian or bovine muscle and fat cells in vitro. This is tissue engineering in application with a means toward using a combination of the right cells, the right materials, and the right environment to enable biochemical and physiochemical factors to induce cell growth, differentiation, and maturation into a whole cut of lab-grown meat!
While commercial scaffolding products are on the market for 3D cell culture, Ecovative holds true to its values with an RUO (research use only, for now) biomaterial product that is cost-effective, scalable, and edible! Soon, Biologists can redefine cell culture with a new and abbreviated mantra: Seed, grow…eat!
Cellular and Molecular Biologist driving Ecovative’s research strategy and deliverables.
Co-lead of Excell™ Scaffold Kit development.