University of North Carolina launches one of the world’s first classes dedicated to cellular agriculture

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AUTHOR: Molly Long
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Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) are now able to take a class exclusively dedicated to cellular agriculture. 

The semester-long class, first launched in January 2022, is entitled The Cellular Agriculture Revolution and has been developed through a collaboration between the university, student organisation The Chapel Hill Alt Protein Project, and the Good Food Institute. 

UNC-Chapel Hill is the latest in a growing number of education establishments to offer learning specifically around different forms of alternative protein. Other universities which offer similar courses are Tufts University in the US, Singapore University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. 

According to Chapel Hill Alt Protein Project Co-Founder Deeksha Mittal, a group of Alt Protein Project students have been working with three UNC-Chapel Hill professors for the last year to develop and launch the course. 

Professors and weekly guest speakers from the industry will introduce students to the technical aspects of cellular agriculture. Class topics include scaffolding, molecular farming and cell culture development.

There are no prerequisites for the class, the university says, and it is open to all students. However, a basic understanding of cell biology, a passion for science, and interest in food and technology is recommended.

Dr Douglas Phanstiel, Professor of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and teacher on The Cellular Agriculture Revolution course, said: “This course is an exciting opportunity to participate in the crucial effort toward a more sustainable, healthy and just food system. 

“I am impressed and inspired by the work of the student-run Chapel Hill Alt Protein Project in propelling the course and engaging the community with this promising field of research and development.”

The course is part of a wider effort from the student group and university to transform the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as other academic institutions in the area into “engines for alternative protein education, research and innovation,”  Mittal said. 

The area surrounding the university – known as the Research Triangle – is home to over 15 companies working in alternative protein production. By offering the course, the university is also building a talent pipeline for alt-protein start-ups located both in North Carolina and elsewhere.  

“In order to solve its various challenges and commercialise cellular agriculture technology at scale, the field needs professionals with a wide range of expertise, including chemists, biologists, engineers, policymakers, business people and others.”  Mittal said. “The Cellular Agriculture Revolution course is just the beginning of the University’s alternative protein curriculum, with hopes to one day offer an alternative protein minor.”

While it is likely still take some time until meat made using cellular agriculture technologies is approved and widely available for consumers to try, the sector made some progress last month when the Dutch House of Representatives passed a motion to make cell-based meat sampling legal. Lab-grown chicken, made by Eat Just, is available in restaurant 1880 in Singapore.

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