Test-tube meat soon - scientist

2012-02-20 13:22

Vancouver - The world's first "test-tube" meat, a hamburger made from a cow's stem cells, will be produced this year, Dutch scientist Mark Post told a major science conference on Sunday.

Post's aim is to invent an efficient way to produce skeletal muscle tissue in a laboratory that exactly mimics meat, and eventually replace the entire meat-animal industry.

The ingredients for his first burger are "still in a laboratory phase", he said, but "we have committed ourselves to make a couple of thousand of small tissues, and then assemble them into a hamburger".

Post, chair of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said his project is funded with €250 000 from an anonymous private investor motivated by "care for the environment, food for the world, and interest in life-transforming technologies".

Post spoke at a symposium titled "The Next Agricultural Revolution" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.

Global vegetarian diet

Speakers said they aim to develop such "meat" products for mass consumption to reduce the environmental and health costs of conventional food production.

Conventional meat and dairy production requires more land, water, plants and disposal of waste products than almost all other human foods, they said.

The global demand for meat is expected to rise by 60% by 2050, said American scientist Nicholas Genovese, who organised the symposium.

"But the majority of earth's pasture lands are already in use," he said, so conventional livestock producers can only meet the booming demand by further expansion into nature.

The result would be lost biodiversity, more greenhouse and other gases, and an increase in disease, he said.

In 2010 a report by the United Nations Environment Program called for a global vegetarian diet.

"Animal farming is by far the biggest ongoing global catastrophe," Patrick Brown of the Stanford University School of Medicine told reporters.

"More to the point, it's incredibly ready to topple... it's inefficient technology that hasn't changed fundamentally for millennia," he said.

"There's been a blind spot in the science and technology community [of livestock production] as an easy target."

Brown, who said he is funded by an American venture capital firm and has two start-ups in California, said he will devote the rest of his life to develop products that mimic meat but are made entirely from vegetable sources.

He is working "to develop and commercialise a product that can compete head on with meat and dairy products based on taste and value for the mainstream consumer, for people who are hard-core meat and cheese lovers who can't imagine ever giving that up, but could be persuaded if they had a product with all taste and value".

Brown said developing meat from animal cells in a laboratory will still have a high environmental cost, and so he said he will rely only on plant sources.

Both scientists said no companies in the existing meat industry have expressed interest.

  • TSR01 - 2012-02-20 13:49

    First! But will it taste like normal meat? Stem cells are stem cells, and the building blocks they "map" for assembly may lack nutrients and other compounds found in traditionally harvested meat products. Sure, they might enrich the products with vitamins and minerals, but again, will it be satisfying to the consumer? Time will tell. :)

      Trevor - 2012-02-21 08:08

      That's ok, that's what flavourants and colourants are for. Come on now, we've made a plan for everything ;) I'm sure we'll eventually be able to get chicken stem cells grown into KFC complete with 11 herbs and spices - now there's a burgeoning potential market ;) They could call it: 'Streetwise Basic'. Good idea, just a bit icky thinking that your burger grew up in a lab somewhere... I suppose it's no worse than hydroponics

  • modo - 2012-02-20 13:58

    If we do indeed grow meat in a lab that has the same benefits as real meat, I think it will do our ethical obligation as humans to switch to this for our nutrition.

  • modo - 2012-02-20 14:41

  • doc.mouton - 2012-02-20 16:31

    So now we will buy meat that tastes like McDonalds??? Nah, I want au naturale!!!

  • daryltt - 2012-02-20 17:17

    I'd rather become a vegetarian. Gross...

  • Johannes - 2012-02-21 09:56

    One thing that tickles my brain at the back... Aren't stem cells harvested from fetuses? So basically you won't slaughter the grown animal or get the veal calf, no you go way back and abort that tiny veal and build 10 burgers from it.... Damn science fiction for that image.

  • Bianca - 2012-02-21 14:57

    Just become a vegetarian! I have been a healthy Vegan for more than 6 years! Now pregnant and my doctors also have no problem with my diet - in fact I am healthier than most meat eaters!

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