Meet the researcher: algae, sea bass and 3D printing with Diana Marques

24 January 2022

Don’t be afraid to reach out – that’s the advice from a researcher developing new techniques to cultivate fish fillets.

Diana Marques, Scientific Researcher at the Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences, University of Lisbon

Name: Diana Marques

Job title: Scientific researcher

Organisation: Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences, University of Lisbon

Sustainable protein specialism: Cultivated seafood

Don’t be afraid to reach out – that’s the advice from a researcher developing new techniques to produce cultivated fish fillets.

Diana Marques is a key member of the team led by Associate Professor Frederico Ferreira from the University of Lisbon’s Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences (iBB).

Making fish from algae

The project aims to cultivate sea bass cells, creating a real fish fillet with the same look, taste and texture as conventionally produced sea bass – and even the same health benefits – without the bones, negative environmental impact, or microplastics.

The team is using techniques including 3D printing to create edible scaffolds using material extracted from algae and plants, giving structure to a product cultivated from fish cells.

Diana first became interested in cultivated meat – which she had never previously heard of – when she was taking part in an entrepreneurship course led by Professor Ferreira as part of her biotechnology masters programme at Lisbon’s Instituto Superior Técnico.

The course encouraged students to come up with ideas for startup projects and Diana’s team developed the concept of creating cultivated sushi.

“The moment I found out what I wanted to do with my life”

Diana said: “I’m a vegan, so when I discovered that I could take something I feel passionate about – food and sustainability – and combine it with science, that was the moment I found out what I wanted to do with my life.

“I really want cultivated meat to happen, so now I’m motivated every day to create a product that will work. It’s really nice to be working on something so innovative.”

She approached Professor Ferreira, who had a background in biomedical scaffolding, and between them they developed what became the cultivated sea bass project the team is now working on.

She devoted her masters thesis to creating the algae and plant-based bio-inks now being used in the 3D printing process, and spent her time trawling the Good Food Institute website – which she says contains “everything a person needs” to learn about the science of cultivation – and attending online seminars.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out”

It was at this point that she contacted GFI’s senior scientist Dr Claire Bomkamp, who she had seen presenting a cultivated seafood seminar, and went on to apply for GFI’s Competitive Research Grant Programme, which is now funding the project.

Diana said: “My advice to researchers who are interested in this field is don’t be afraid to reach out. Cultivated meat is at a very early stage and I think the research community is really open to hearing people’s ideas.

“But I also think we need to establish more significant communication around cultivated meat research, with optional courses at universities, so people have got more background knowledge and are more likely to enter the field.”

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