Interesting food development

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.”


  1. says

    What are they feeding it? I assume, given the statement that an “independent study found that lab-grown beef uses 45% less energy than the average global representative figure for farming cattle. It also produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 99% less land”, that they are not feeding it bovine serum as part of its nutrient mix? If they were doing so I’d expect the opposite to be the case.

  2. johnwoodford says

    What I’m far more concerned about is that the lab-grown tissue has no immune system, and it’s going to be much harder to maintain sterile conditions on a factory scale than on a benchtop scale.

  3. says

    Not to downplay the issues, but hat’s just engineering. We already do it every day with the group of drugs we sometimes call biologicals. Those monoclonal antibodies don’t make themselves! We just have to do it bigger.

  4. 2up2down2furious says

    Long-time vegetarian here chiming in. For many middle-class or wealthy people in the developed world, vegetarianism is easier than ever. Obviously, there are Americans dealing with food insecurity and poverty who cannot reasonably be expected to forgo meat, but almost any American with a decent, steady income and access to a supermarket can transition to a healthy, delicious, and affordable vegetarian diet with relative ease. This lab-grown meat is substantially more humane than “regular” meat and it seems to be more sustainable, but it seems like giving up meat would be much cheaper and realistic than going through all the trouble to get the lab-produced kind.

  5. unbound says

    My sole concern with this approach is the micro-nutritional value of the meat grown this way. Meat is actually an important part of a diet (yes, I know you can be vegetarian if you eat correctly…but even vegetarians need B12 which comes from animal products sprinkled on their cereal or in vitamin form) due to all of the micro-nutrients. If this becomes commercialized, I’m afraid that the meat will become as micro-nutrient deficient as all of our heavily processed grains. There needs to be strict regulations about keeping the micro-nutrients in this kind of meat.

  6. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    (yes, I know you can be vegetarian if you eat correctly…but even vegetarians need B12 which comes from animal products sprinkled on their cereal or in vitamin form)

    Nope, try again. There are vegan B 12 supplements available but most people get by just fine without them.

  7. bobmunck says

    Once we’ve learned to grow meat in vats, the optimum meat to grow — the one that’s the best fit to our nutritional needs — is us.

    And if you’re worried about contamination and disease, the way some people insist on blood transfusions of only their own blood, the ideal donor of the starter culture for you is you.

    So perhaps in the future we’ll see a row of vats in the kitchen, labeled “Dad,” “Mom,” “Junior,” and “Sis.” After all that, it’s only logical for the family to use their own lawn, shrubs, and table scraps to fuel the vats, perhaps powered by solar cells on the roof. In a certain sense, the vats will be “external stomachs” that preprocess your vegetarian diet of grass clippings so that you can eat (very) local.

  8. lpetrich says

    The main problem I see is how to feed the lab-grown meat tissue. It’ll need a full set of nutrients — sugars, fats, amino acids, vitamins, the works. One would have to produce them low on the food chain, like from grains and beans and the like — imagine (American) corn and soybeans.

  9. Corvus illustris says

    This is not obvious to me. Ingested food is processed by a lot of very complicated reactions in the digestive system, and that system has a long evolutionary history which may include but is not limited to cannibalism. Just because you are what you eat doesn’t imply that you should eat what you are.

  10. bobmunck says

    Just because you are what you eat doesn’t imply that you should eat what you are.

    I’ll accept that criticism; I’m nowhere near qualified to have an opinion on such things.

    On the other hand, that last sentence is absolutely perfect.

  11. Corvus illustris says

    That’s very kind. I’m totally unqualified to have an opinion on any biological subject. But (and Mano agreed with this in an earlier post) if you tell a mathematician anything, s/he’ll immediately start trying to think of counterexamples.

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