Practical Issues >
Health - Index >
Test Tube Meat
What if the next burger you ate was created in a warm,
nutrient-enriched soup swirling within a bioreactor?
Edible, lab-grown ground chuck that smells and tastes just like the
real thing might take a place next to Quorn at supermarkets in just a
few years, thanks to some determined meat researchers. Scientists
routinely grow small quantities of muscle cells in petri dishes for
experiments, but now for the first time a concentrated effort is under
way to mass-produce meat in this manner.
Henk Haagsman, a professor of meat sciences at Utrecht University, and
his Dutch colleagues are working on growing artificial pork meat out
of pig stem cells. They hope to grow a form of minced meat suitable
for burgers, sausages and pizza toppings within the next few years.
A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the
world's population for a year. But the challenge lies in figuring out
how to grow it on a large scale. Jason Matheny, a University of
Maryland doctoral student and a director of New Harvest, a nonprofit
organization that funds research on in vitro meat, believes the
easiest way to create edible tissue is to grow "meat sheets," which
are layers of animal muscle and fat cells stretched out over large
flat sheets made of either edible or removable material. The meat can
then be ground up or stacked or rolled to get a thicker cut.
"To produce the meat we eat now, 75 (percent) to 95 percent of what we
feed an animal is lost because of metabolism and inedible structures
like skeleton or neurological tissue," says Matheny. "With cultured
meat, there's no body to support; you're only building the meat that
eventually gets eaten."
If successful, artificially grown meat could be tailored to be far
healthier than any type of farm-grown meat. It's possible to stuff if
full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, adjust the protein or
texture to suit individual taste preferences and screen it for
But will it really catch on? The Food and Drug Administration has
already barred food products involving cloned animals from the market
until their safety has been tested. There's also the yuck factor.
"Cultured meat isn't natural, but neither is yogurt," says Matheny.
"And neither, for that matter, is most of the meat we eat. Cramming
10,000 chickens in a metal shed and dosing them full of antibiotics
isn't natural. I view cultured meat like hydroponic vegetables. The
end product is the same, but the process used to make it is different.
Consumers accept hydroponic vegetables. Would they accept hydroponic
Taste is another unknown variable. Real meat is more than just cells;
it has blood vessels, connective tissue, fat, etc. To get a similar
arrangement of cells, lab-grown meat will have to be exercised and
stretched the way a real live animal's flesh would.
full story: http://wired.com/news/technology/0,71201-0.html?tw=wn_index_1