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Cultivating change: charting a future with sustainable meat production

Winning the Doctoral Recognition Award in 2023, Tom Davies is offering new perspectives in the field with his PhD research in cultured meat.

Rewarding journey of shifts and challenges

Initially fascinated by the intricate world of nanotechnology, Tom found a new calling in cultured meat. It was designing a bioprocessing plant for scaled-up cultured meat production during an undergraduate project that led him to discover a passion for this field. This shift was motivated by the potential of cultured meat – if successful, it may significantly reduce the environmental impacts of meat production, as well as improve animal welfare, and reduce zoonotic disease and antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

"It’s an amazing opportunity to not only further explore my interest in muscle biology and nutrition stemming from my love for sports, but also to make a positive difference through my work by developing sustainable technologies."

Tom is studying muscle cell metabolism with a focus on optimising cell growth in bioreactors. Doing this will improve the efficiency of cultured meat production, reduce waste and its overall environmental footprint. Like any researcher, Tom has faced challenges throughout this journey. He had to overcome the frustrations of inconclusive or unsuccessful experiments, or tasks taking much longer than anticipated.

"I think the most important skill I have developed during the PhD is resilience. I’ve learnt to (better) manage expectations and be more realistic as well as reframe plans and goals and deal with challenging questions and criticism when things aren’t going as I hoped."

Impactful research with global perspectives

Cultured meat may also help to address global challenges such as food security, nutrition, and public health. There has been significant investment in cultured meat development worldwide, and governments have begun introducing policies that permit the manufacture and sale of this product. However, reaching price parity with farmed meat remains a significant challenge, and many parts of the cultured meat process require optimisation. Tom’s work focuses on the bioreactor where the muscle cells are cultured.

"An optimised and efficient bioreactor system will reduce raw material requirements for muscle cell culture, which will in turn reduce the environmental impact and costs of the system, bringing cultured meat one step closer to market."

His academic pursuits also took him to Singapore, offering him a unique international perspective. Singapore is a major driver of cultured meat research as it looks to develop technologies that can improve the city-states’ food security. By immersing himself in a new culture and research environment, he gained invaluable insights and a broader understanding of global scientific practices and cultural approaches to academia. He describes the experience as "transformative to both my personal and professional growth."

"Although a bit daunting to start with, having the opportunity to explore a new country and work alongside experts in bioprocessing technologies has been very enjoyable. I also greatly enjoyed presenting my research at conferences while listening to other fascinating research in the field and networking with industry leaders at the same time."

Vision for the future

Looking forward, Tom is enthusiastic about the potential of his research to make a difference. He envisions a career in the biotech industry, ideally within innovative startup environments. He aims to continue contributing to the future of meat production and food sustainability, with a focus on real-world applications.

Tom's journey from nanotechnology to cultured meat represents a unique blend of curiosity, adaptability, and impact. His work paves the way for a future where cultured meat can play a significant role in feeding the world's population sustainably.

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