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What can I print you for dinner?

Scientists from Osaka University in Japan have manufactured Wagyu beef by three-dimensionally printing stem cells from cattle.
Image credit: Zinkevych/iStock

Using 3D printed to “produce” meat is not new. We have seen several companies cultivating animals and plants cells and then printing them into what looks like meat. Usually what you get is meat that can be used for hamburgers or, in more advanced cases, as steaks.

Now scientists at the Osaka University have managed to print Wagyu beef. This is quite challenging since this beef is characterised by high marble content (it is because of this characteristics that, at least in Japan, this meat is considered of the highest quality and demand a very high price – some 400$ per kg, a steak at a restaurant can be charged anywhere between 120-300$ – watch the clip).

Given this high value (price) it is no surprise the interest to create artificial beef mimicking this type of meat. The scientists used two types of stem cells, one taken from Wagyu cows for the adipose part, and incubated them to generate many cells that could be used as 3D ink by their 3D printer. The printing of the steak took into account the marbling (fat) as well as blood vessels distribution to provide the same texture of the Wagyu beef. They had to refine 3D printing algorithms to deliver the specific Wagyu texture (also creating random patterns of marble).

They claim success and go further by claiming that once the culturing of cells will achieve industrial grade yield it will become possible to remove the “cows” from the value chain. Also, this technology is proving that very complex biological structures can be created and this has an impact both on the food chain and on the healthcare sector (organ bioprinting).

We can even start imagining a future where we can print our steak home, buying the “ink” at the supermarket and them printing the steak that is the very best for our taste, with that specific texture that we like.

No-one, so far, has managed to print fruits but there are studies going on into this area as well.


About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.