Krypton Radio Newswire

This unappetizing tissue sample in a petri dish is a 2cm wide strip of muscle tissue grown from cow stem cells, and will be used along with thousands of others just like it to create the world's first lab grown burger.

Dutch scientists have used stem cells to create strips of muscle tissue with the aim of producing the first lab-grown hamburger later this year. At the moment, the strips of muscle that will be used to create the patty are only 2cm wide and will be mixed with blood and artificially grown fat to produce a hamburger by the autumn.

Maastricht University Professor Mark Post discussed his substitute meat, which would be grown from cow stem cells, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver on Sunday.  After first creating mouse meat in a test tube, he moved on to pork and is now trying his hand at artificial beef. This is one of those expensive proof-of-concept projects. How expensive? Experts think that the final cost of the burger will be around £200,000 – that’s about $316K USD, give or take. That’s one expensive patty. The aim of the research is to develop a more efficient way of producing meat than rearing animals, but it obviously has a long way to go before it becomes a commercially viable process – but at a major science meeting in Canada, Prof Mark Post said synthetic meat could reduce the environmental footprint of meat by up to 60%. “We would gain a tremendous amount in terms of resources,” he said. Such success could singlehandedly help satiate the world’s growing appetite for meat — a desire that is expected to double meat consumption by 2050. Less animal farming could reduce the risks of livestock diseases that spread to humans, slash the need for grazing land, and perhaps even help the world avoid food shortages by consuming crops directly rather than feeding them to animals.

Dr. Post’s lab-grown meat isn’t the only solution out there being worked on, however, An alternative method using plant material but capable of replicating the taste, texture and nutrition of animal products could very likely debut by the end of this year, said Patrick Brown, a molecular biologist at Stanford University.

“We have a class of products that totally rocks, and cannot be distinguished from the animal-based product it replaces, even by hardcore foodies,” Brown said.

Brown began his work several years ago when he decided to focus the rest of his life upon solving the challenge of weaning the world off of animal farming. He described such animal farming as an “inefficient technology millennia old” that also represents “by far the biggest environmental catastrophe” during a press conference held at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver on Feb. 19.

“We can do more good by taking on the simple task of figuring out how to convert cheap, abundant sustainable plant materials into nutrient-dense, protein-rich foods that people deliberately choose to eat based on taste and value,” Brown said, “[Rather] than by coming up with imagining sustainable, renewable energy sources or a car that can run for a thousand miles per gallon.”

Other researchers have previously tried tackling the problem by growing animal meat inside the lab — a method based on medical stem cell tactics for growing replacement organs or human tissue. But the costs remain very high, said Dr. Mark Post, who is also a physician on the board of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Dr. Post’s method involves growing several thousand bits of small, lab-grown meat and assemble them into a full hamburger. But the physician also praised Brown’s approach of using vegetable-based material as perhaps the more cost-effective solution — assuming that it replicates the taste and texture of meat and dairy.

“I think we agree on if there is a vegetable-derived product that can take away the craving of a human being for meat, then that would be preferable,” Post said. “If it can be done — and I want to believe in Pat’s work — then that’s going to be the way to go.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Brown is winning over meat lovers who have not embraced today’s meatless products aimed at vegetarians. But Brown sounded confident that he could do the biochemistry tinkering necessary to satisfy any hunger for meatloaf or sirloin steak.

“What you first need is a gateway drug for people to realize that all the things they love can be satisfied by plants,” Brown said.


  • American Association for the Advancement of Science article