For the first time, a burger has been made from lab cultured cells in the University of Maastricht.
A fair few science fiction novels use the idea of vat-grown meat as a method of mass producing protein cheaply for a hungry and growing population. However, the first laboratory cultured burgers are a little beyond the average person’s wallet, costing £216,000 per burger. This is the same amount of money that Mark Post, the vascular physiologist who grew the meat used in the burgers, received as funding for his project.
As the starting point in his experiment, Post gathered pluripotent stem cells, which can only turn into certain types of cells, from discarded tissue in slaughterhouses. He then grew the cells in a Petri dish with a nutrient broth, and they multiplied into clumps of muscle tissue. He then manually stretched the tissue sheets in order to “exercise” them, to encourage growth and prevent them shrinking through atrophy. The resultant muscle cultures are thin, inch long strips, and technically white meat, since although they were grown from bovine stem cells no blood was involved in the growing process. Mark Post will be selling his pricey patties at an invitation only event on the 5 August, so even if you do have a spare quarter of a million pounds, odds are you won’t get to try one just yet.
While this does seem an incredibly exclusive event for a quarter pounder, the idea is that this will hopefully be a proof of concept moment for meat grown from stem cells, encouraging investments that will allow for improvements in the technology, and the quantity of meat that can be made at once. While unlikely to sway vegetarians to eating meat, one of the largest problems with a growing global rate of meat consumption is that it is highly land and labour intensive, as well as the carbon footprint of rearing, slaughtering, butchering and transporting the animals. If the process can be improved then it could prove an easy way to provide cheap, “bloodless” meat in a relatively eco-friendly fashion.