Test tube hamburgers to be served this year
The world’s first test tube hamburger will be served up this October after scientists perfected the art of growing beef in the lab.
The process of culturing the artificial meat in the lab is so laborious that the finished product, expected to arrive in eight months’ time, will cost about £220,000 (EUR250,000).
But researchers expect that after producing their first patty they will be able to scale up the process to create affordable artificial meat products.
Mass-producing beef, pork, chicken and lamb in the lab could satisfy the growing global demand for meat – forecast to double within the next 40 years – and dramatically reduce the harm that farming does to the environment.
Last autumn the Telegraph reported that Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands had grown small strips of muscle tissue from a pig’s stem cells, using a serum taken from a horse foetus.
Speaking at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Vancouver yesterday afternoon (SUNDAY), Prof Post said his team has successfully replicated the process with cow cells and calf serum, bringing the first artificial burger a step closer.
He said: “In October we are going to provide a proof of concept showing out of stem cells we can make a product that looks, feels and hopefully tastes like meat.”
Although it is possible to extract a limited number of stem cells from cows without killing them, Prof Post said the most efficient way of taking the process forward would still involve slaughter.
He said: “Eventually my vision is that you have a limited herd of donor animals in the world that you keep in stock and that you get your cells form there.”
Each animal would be able to produce about a million times more meat through the lab-based technique than through the traditional method of butchery, he added.
Making a complete burger will require 3,000 strips of muscle tissue, each of which measures about 3cm long by 1.5cm wide, with a thickness of half a millimetre and takes six weeks to produce.
The meat will then be ground up with 200 strips of fat tissue, produced in the same way, to make a hamburger.
To produce the meat, stem cells are placed in a broth containing vital nutrients and serum from a cow foetus which allow them to grow into muscle cells and multiply up to 30 times.
The strips of meat begin contracting like real muscle cells, and are attached to velcro and stretched to boost this process and keep them supple.
At the moment the method produces meat with realistic fibres and a pinkish-yellow tinge, but Prof Post expects to produce more authentically coloured strips in the near future.
He forecast that, with the right funding and regulatory approval, his method could be scaled up to industrial proportions within as little as ten years.
But creating different cuts, such as steaks, would be more problematic because to grow thicker strips of meat would require an artificial blood supply, he added. The work is being financed by anonymous and extremely wealthy benefactor who Prof Post claims is a household name with a reputation for “turning everything into gold”.
Prof Post plans to ask Heston Blumenthal to cook the meat, and the anonymous financer will decide who to invite to eat it.
The only person to have tried the lab-grown meat so far is a Russian journalist who snatched a sample of pork during a visit to Prof Post’s lab at Maastricht University last year and declared himself unimpressed.