November 14, 2011
Are You Ready For A Lab-Grown Hamburger Patty?
The future of your backyard BBQ may be a bit different from what you are used to if researchers have their way. Along with a growing global population that has recently passed 7-billion people, comes an ever-growing hunger for meat, which needs inherently inefficient resources to grow, sustain, process and ship those products to the table.
Vascular biologist Mark Post, from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, hopes to grow animal protein, or cultured meat, burgers or sausages grown in a laboratory rather than made from slaughtered livestock.
“The first one will be a proof of concept, just to show it´s possible,” Post told Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent for Reuters from his Maastricht lab. “I believe I can do this in the coming year.”
Products from this process may sound and look like some kind of fake meat, but in-vitro or cultured meat is real animal flesh, except that it has never been part of a complete, living animal. This is not imitation meat or a protein substitute aimed at vegetarians and made from vegetable proteins such as soy.
The meat proteins are grown using stem cells harvested from leftover animal material from slaughterhouses. They are then fed a concoction of sugars, amino acids, lipids, minerals and all other nutrients they need to grow.
Laboratory research so far has produced only whitish pale muscle-like strips, each of them around 1-inch long, less than a centimeter wide and thin enough to be translucent. Not what ones thinks of when imagining a juicy steak, but it is only a beginning.
Grown into layers, about 3,000 of them, add a bit of lab-grown fat, and you have the world´s first “cultured meat” burger, Post told Reuters. “This first one will be grown in an academic lab, by highly trained academic staff,” he said. “It´s hand-made and it´s time and labor-intensive, that´s why it´s so expensive to produce.”
Post has yet to sample his lab-grown creation, but others have and reviews are not great. A Russian TV reporter who came to his lab tried one of the strips and was unimpressed.
Still in early testing, the amounts and types of fats are being worked on and perhaps with the addition of a little lab-grown blood will give it color and iron. Post is confident he can make his Petri dish meat look and taste as good as the real thing.
Post also hopes the ability to tweak and change things will mean scientists will ultimately be able to create meat with less saturated and more polyunsaturated fat and more nutrients.
“The idea is that since we are now producing it in the lab, we can play with all these variables and we can eventually hopefully turn it in a way that produces healthier meat,” he said. “Whereas in a cow or a pig, you have very limited variables to play with.”
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