A foodtech company from Israel claims to have 3D printed the first fish fillet using laboratory-grown animal cells. Research with artificially bred beef and chicken has been trying to provide an alternative to conventional agriculture and its environmental impact for some time. Few companies would deal with seafood so far, as reported by Reuters. Israeli company Steakholder Foods has now teamed up with Singapore-based company Umami Meats to make fish fillets – while helping to combat dwindling fish populations.

Umami Meats, for example, extracts cells from grouper and grows them into muscle and fat tissue. Steakholder Foods then stitches them together in a kind of “bio-ink” suitable for special 3D printers. The result: a narrow fillet that mimics the characteristics of fish caught in the sea. Umami hopes to launch its first products in the next year, first in Singapore and then, pending regulations, in countries like the US and Japan. Cell culture alone is still too expensive to match the cost of traditional seafood, so the fish cells in the organic ink are diluted with botanical ingredients.

“Over time, the complexity and sophistication of these products will increase, and the prices to produce them will decrease,” Arik Kaufman, managing director of Steakholder Foods, told Reuters. During production, a glass bowl slides back and forth in the 3D printer, with the white fillet gaining mass with each pass. When it’s fried and seasoned, you can hardly tell the difference. The process is simpler than with beef, but it also has some disadvantages.

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Cattle stem cells have been extensively researched, but much less is known about fish, says Mihir Pershad, managing director of Umami. “We need to figure out what cells like to consume and how they grow, and there just isn’t that much literature to start with,” Pershad continued. “You can imagine that the number of scientists studying the biology of fish stem cells is only a fraction of those studying animal and human cells.”

Umami has developed a process for groupers and eels and hopes to add three more endangered species in the coming months, Pershad says. A central challenge is to settle the prices at about the level of conventional fish from the sea. “We want consumers to make their choices based on how it tastes and what it can do for the world and the environment,” adds Pershad.