‘In vitro burger’, anyone?


name “in vitro burger” is enough to make your hair stand up, but it’s a laboratory-manufactured  snack a Dutch scientist and his team will serve in London next week.

Professor Mark Post, a medical physiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and his team spent two years developing their “test tube meat” patty.

It consists of 3 000 strips of artificial beef, each about the size of a rice grain, grown from the stem cells of a slaughtered cow. The burger with its 140 g patty cost  R3,75 million to develop and is the most expensive in the world.

In Professor Post’s production process muscle tissue is created from stem cells, minced and mixed with fat also grown in the laboratory. Delicious.

The professor believes his technique could eventually help prevent environmental damage and food crises. It’s estimated stem cells harvested from a single animal could be used to grow a million times more meat than the animal would deliver.

“The demand for meat will double in the next 40 years and we’re already using 70 per cent of our agricultural capacity to provide meat from cattle,” says Professor Post. “If we do nothing meat will become a very expensive luxury product. Also, cattle contribute to greenhouse gas release – even more so than transport.”

It will be a while before we’ll be able to buy “green” meat. Professor Post’s experiment needs to be refined before laboratory meat will be commercially available.

Some experts say the launch of the burger in London’s exclusive West End could lead to artificial meat being sold in supermarkets within five to 10 years.

The long-term goal must be to grow bigger pieces of meat such as steak and chops if we want to use the technique to fight food shortages, says the professor.

“Hopefully this will help create enough enthusiasm and financial backing to enable us to upscale the process and make it more cost-effective.

Animal activist organisation, Peta, says this type of meat would be morally acceptable because fewer animals would have to be slaughtered. “In vitro meat enables people to ‘eat ethically’ and still get their meat fix,” says Peta’s Lindsay Rajt.

The organisation is offering a prize of $1 million (about R10 million) to researchers who can produce the first test-tube poultry meat before the end of the year.

Can’t wait.

-Richard van Rensburg


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