Hungry for a hamburger from the future?
Meat grown from scratch in the laboratory for human consumption in not yet commercially viable but it could soon be – if Dr Mark Post at the Eindhoven University in the Netherlands achieves his goal.
As yet laboratory-grown fillet steak isn’t on the menu. Indeed the patty Post intends to put inside his bun this October will have cost about a quarter of million euros to grow – from stem cells in a laboratory.
To ‘make’ enough meat to eat, the cultures from stem cells are allowed to multiply a millionfold before they are put into Petri dishes to develop into muscle cells. Here they are encouraged to work out and build up their strength with pieces of Velcro on to which they can attach themselves in order to stretch and relax spontaneously.
Quite an indulgence just to make the world’s most expensive hamburger, you might think. But Post’s ambitions are larger than this. He hopes to scale up the operation to make laboratory meat on a commercial scale.
The stem cells themselves are extracted from cattle muscle, and in theory one cow can supply as many hamburgers as a million slaughtered animals can today. The nutrients however need to come from other sources ¬ conventional crops or algae which grow faster than vascular plants and provide the necessary amino acids, sugars and fats.
Consumers may fear Frankenstein foods, but this way of growing meat has its advantages. Raising animals is a resource-intensive process. About 30% of the world’s ice-free land is used for it. Yet of the nutrients in the plants these animals eat, on around 15% is turned into meat.
Post’s laboratory meat could liberate land, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions (cattle are a notorious source of methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). More over you don’t even have to slaughter a cow to obtain stem cells from it – a biopsy will do.