Artificially-created meat has long been the dream of futurists and researchers, a means of solving world hunger and improving health at the same time. Efforts to create it using 3D printing are coming along, but another research firm has offered a different approach – in vitro grown meat. And at the same time, this lab-grown alternative offers consumers the chance to improve their health by eating something more nutritionally balanced.
The breakthrough comes to us from a group of researchers led by Mark Post, a Vascular Physiology professor at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. To make the burger, he and his team began with a kind of stem cell called a myosatellite cell that is taken from a cow’s neck. These cells are then placed in growth medium that the researchers have formulated to allow them to grow and divide. The resulting cells are grown into 20,000 strips of muscle tissue which are assembled into beef.
This is an encouraging development for a number of reasons. First of all, a 2011 joint-research study between the University of Oxford, University of Amsterdam, and a number of environmental research organizations, cultured meat required up to 45 percent less energy and up to 96 percent less water to produce, generated up to 96 percent less greenhouse gases and, without animal herds of flocks to tend to, requires 99 percent less land.
Second, Post’s recipe for a lab-grown beef burger contains no fat, compared to its rather fatty organic counterpart. And while fat is responsible for giving a burger much of its taste, Post insists that his recipe tastes “tastes reasonably good.” In the coming weeks Post plans on cooking his burger at an event in London where participants will try the in vitro meat – adding salt and pepper to taste.
However, the process is not completely devoid of reliance on actual cows. As already mentioned, the original stem cells that make the process possible have to come from a living cow. In addition, the muscle cells were grown in fetal calf serum, a necessity at this point since the process is still in its infancy. It’s hoped that in the future the burger can be produced without any material of animal origin.
And of course, the technology needs to become way more scalable before it can be considered viable. For example, between the cost of extracting the fetal cow tissue and turning it into meat in a lab, a single burger took roughly $325,000 to produce. But ultimately, this feat was all about pushing the boundaries and challenging notions of what is possible.
Let’s make a proof of concept, and change the discussion from ‘this is never going to work’ to, ‘well, we actually showed that it works, but now we need to get funding and work on it.’
While it may be several more years before in vitro burgers replace old fashioned farmed burgers, but the feat is a delicious victory for environmentalists and scientists alike in search for alternate ways to feed the world’s addiction to meat.
Funny, all this talk of lab-grown meat is giving me a sense of deja vu. Didn’t somebody write a story about this exact kind of thing not that long ago? Oh yeah… it was me! Well that’s just great, now I got to sue J.J. Abrams and the University of Maastricht? Lord, why do you torment me so?