Dr Shigeki Sugii (second from left) and his team that works on fish fat at IMCB
Nurturing Top Talent for the Local R&D Ecosystem
Meet The Man Creating Healthy Fat
01 Mar 2022
Fat has earned a bad name despite being one of three key macronutrients that are essential for body wellbeing. Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Besides protein and carbohydrates, fat is needed for normal body functioning.
Dr Shigeki Sugii, Principal Investigator at A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), who has studied lipid biochemistry and fat biology for over 20 years, aims to change people’s perception of fat to something good. He is part of the team at the CentRe of Innovation for Sustainable banking and Production of Cultivated Meats (CRISP Meats), which was set up in May 2021 by A*STAR in collaboration with institutes of higher learning to advance R&D in the cultivated meat industry.
Dr Sugii is currently working on developing cell-based healthy fat from fish species. In cultivated meat products, he observed that a lot of focus is on the muscle of the animal, a major part of the meat. However, he feels that while fat is only a minor part of the meat, it can significantly enhance the taste and texture of meat. He cites examples of meat fat such as marbling in beef and toro in sashimi and sushi. This triggered his interest in making fat from healthy sources like seafood.
The research team regularly monitors the health and differentiation states of fish stem cells with fluorescent microscopy.
While plenty of studies have been done on fat cells from human and mice, very little investigation was done on fat cells (adipocytes) from fish species. This intrigued him further, and he started isolating stem cell lines, which involves taking fatty tissue samples and selecting the best quality cell population, from fishes in Singapore. He went on to to grow these cells in a culture, which are the starting material for producing fat mass, in the labs.
We established adipogenic cell lines from fish species, which are the first in the world to our knowledge. These cell lines can then be converted or differentiated into mature adipocytes for producing cell-based fish fat, which can complement alternative meat products and improve their taste, texture and even nutrition.
Creating healthy fat with R&D
Real-time quantitative PCR is performed to analyse gene expression of fish adipocytes.
A key challenge of producing cultivated meat is developing culture methods of cell lines, which are the starting material for cultivated meat. Dr Sugii and his team have managed to find the ideal condition for culturing fish fat stem cells and differentiating them into mature adipocytes, thus improving the growth and differentiation rates of the cells, and decreasing the time needed to create mature adipocytes. This could help in scaling up the production process, as it would save production time for fish fat.
We are currently establishing optimal conditions so that the final fish adipocytes are enriched in omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA. We believe that such scalable and healthy fish fat would not only be able to enhance the taste of alternative meat products, but also have health benefits
says Dr Sugii. He is in the midst of setting up a company related to his work on fish fat.
Besides his research on fish, he also delves into studies on human adipose-derived stem cells, which have the potential for use in regenerative medicine through cell therapies.
I am particularly interested in how our research outcomes can be applied to therapeutic or commercial products so that they can improve human lives.