Shojinmeat Project
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Shojinmeat Project

High school cellular agriculture class with cell culture practical experiment based on DIY bio

On Nov.1 and 2, we did a 3-hour cellular agriculture class in a high school in Tokyo. The class was organized by “High School of Near Future” (http://opnlab.co/ ) program by a pro bono organization “OPNLAB”. 19 students participating in this extracurricular class discussed about future of food and agriculture and did a practical cell culture experiment based on DIY cell culture protocols developed in Shojinmeat Project. This class was also featured on Nikkei. (https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGKKZO38163580V21C18A1TCL000/ http://opnlab.co/2018/11/27/media181126/ )

Over this 2-day class, we did a general introduction to cellular agriculture ( en: https://www.slideshare.net/2co/shojinmeat-project-cellular-agriculture-initiative-nov2018 jp: https://www.slideshare.net/2co/201811-123245606 ), web-conference with a wagyu farmer, and chicken cell culture practical experiment. Students worked from cell extraction, culture to observation on the next day.

In the practical experiment session, voltage-reduced towel warmer (100V to 30V, to adjust the temperature from 70 degrees to around 37 degrees) was used as an incubator, and Day-12 fertilized chicken egg was used as cell source. DIY-DMEM and FBS alternatives were not used in this occasion, but in future, students may start cell culture experiment from synthesis of DIY-DMEM. The materials and equipment expenditure for this class was less than $100.

Animal cell culture is one of the most fundamental procedures of biotechnology research, but its price tag has been making it out of reach for school classes. But DIY bio may change that. Computers used to be beyond reach for most people, but today everyone learn how to use computer in schools. The same may happen for biotechnology and cell culture in the future.

Public communication and people’s trust is extremely important in food, as seen in controversies surrounding GMO, and how people and industry react to food poisoning incidents. It is not hard to imagine how people’s trust would become important for cellular agriculture products. Building trust decides how regulations are made, how companies brand their products, and many other aspects of food.

Yuki Tanaka, a Ph.D student in the University of Tokyo thinks that school education plays an important role in public perception and trust. Cell culture is one of the most fundamental topic in understanding cellular agriculture and biotechnology in general. However, cell culture to date is a costly process requiring a proper lab, equipment and skills, and it’s usually not taught in schools. And Yuki Tanaka doesn’t think this is right. DIY bio makes everything inexpensive and accessible, so why not cell culture, in homes and schools for youth and children?

He then he sent a survey to high school teachers about cell culture class in schools and received 9 responses. The result said that overwhelming number of teachers are positive on cell culture class, but at a budget below 30,000 yen (~$300). So this became the target.

Initially, we were using a small incubator built by a labware manufacturer. It costed $500 and wasn’t DIY, so we found an alternative — an electric towel warmer found in restaurants. A towel warmer normally operates at ~70 degrees using AC100~220V. By trimming the input voltage to ~30V, the operating temperature is reduced to ~35 degrees, which is suitable for cell culture. A towel warmer is an accessible commercial product at ~$70. A voltage transformer is available at around similar price.

Certain lab consumables such as pipettes, beakers and some reagents may not be in a local supermarket, but there are specialized physical and online shops. Other harder-to-get labwares such as a clean bench, incubator and culture medium (i.e. DMEM) can be substituted by DIY replacements. Starter cells were extracted from the foetus of a day-12 fertilized chicken egg.

Unfortunately, there are still certain materials that are not commonly accessible and DIY replacements have not been developed yet. One of such is foetal bovine serum, which can be replaced in certain applications but not in every applications. These are the current “work in progress” fronts that anyone is welcome to join.

In this school class, he used towel warmer as incubator and day-12 eggs as the cell source. He stayed somewhat conservative on reagents, and used standard DMEM and FBS from a labware retailer. Upon foetal cell extraction and cell culture, students followed a method developed by DIY biologists.
http://zacmayu.hatenablog.com/
https://cleanmeat-kyoto.hatenablog.com/
(We are preparing to publish these DIY cell culture protocols in a peer-reviewed paper.)

Besides practical experiment, students also learned about current meat production and future cellular agriculture. On day 1 (Nov.1) of the class, the class was connected to a wagyu farmer concerned about the future of animal farming. While the farmer is committed to delivering high quality meat to people, he was also aware of the amount of resource required to run his farm, and its shortfalls in economic and environmental sustainability. He thinks that animal farming continues as it is for the next 5 years (as cattles take years to mature), in 50 years time, there would be very different scenes. The scene may be a barnhouse with rows of bioreactors and culture media production facility using artificial photosynthesis.

Before the class, students were surveyed on what words they associate with “cell culture(細胞培養)”, “animal farming(畜産業)” and “man-made meat (人工肉)”, and what students want to learn in class. The top 3 frequent associations for each were:

Cell culture — — medicine, petri dish, cloning,
Animal farming — — farm animals, heavy labor, meadow
Man-made meat — — safety concerns, uncertainty on being “man made”, taste
I would like to learn… — — just everything, the technology, safety

After the class, another survey was collected on students interest, motivation and possible future scenes. The questions and top 3 frequent keywords were:

“What do you want to learn more?”
— — technology itself, what else are possible, how it affects society and economy

“What actions would you like to take on this topic?”
— — Study more, watch its development, discuss with people

“What future scenes do you imagine?”
— — Import/export of cells, can freely make food, no more seasonal variation

Full results are available here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14bYLHzl2aXKglSZDglwl3knRBnxwWFkLdQ-yV0Ya6WU/edit#gid=0 (in Japanese)

The teachers were also highly enjoying the class. Many students voiced their impressions that they have learned something new in this class. The concerns over cell-based meat shared by students were similar to that found in other surveys worldwide. The survey results also show that students were motivated to learn more about cellular agriculture. From this result alone, we can say that the class was a success!

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Shojinmeat Project

Shojinmeat Project

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Japan-based cultured meat and cellular agriculture citizen science project