Scientists have been exploring creating meat tissue in the lab for a long time and it was only a matter of time before they were successful on a large enough scale.
The world’s first lab-grown burger has been cooked and eaten at a news conference in London.
Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle that they combined to make a patty.
One food expert said it was “close to meat, but not that juicy” and another said it tasted like a real burger.
Prof Mark Post, of Maastricht University, the scientist behind the burger, remarked: “It’s a very good start.”
The professor said the meat was made up of tens of billions of lab-grown cells. Asked when lab-grown burgers would reach the market, he said: “I think it will take a while. This is just to show we can do it.”
He starts with stem cells extracted from cow muscle tissue. In the laboratory, these are cultured with nutrients and growth-promoting chemicals to help them develop and multiply. Three weeks later, there are more than a million stem cells, which are put into smaller dishes where they coalesce into small strips of muscle about a centimetre long and a few millimetres thick.
These strips are collected into small pellets, which are frozen. When there are enough, they are defrosted and compacted into a patty just before being cooked.
Because the meat is initially white in colour, Helen Breewood – who works with Prof Post – is trying to make the lab-grown muscle look red by adding the naturally-occurring compound myoglobin..
This will likely create new theological problems for rabbis and imams who will have to debate interminably as to whether this food is kosher and/or halal.
But it also raises a more serious ethical issue for vegetarians and vegans. It is not clear whether the cows suffered (or even died) as a result of the cells being removed, because the issue of not having animals suffer is a major factor in ethical concerns. For vegans who oppose eating things that have even been coaxed from animals without killing them (like milk), the question of whether using animal cells (even if the animal was not harmed in the process) is allowable will be a tricky one.
At present PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) seems to be on board with this, issuing a statement that said: “[Lab-grown meat] will spell the end of lorries full of cows and chickens, abattoirs and factory farming. It will reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and make the food supply safer.”