Test tube burger

So, a while back I wrote about the (hopeful) future of “meat” that is actually engineered from vegetable protein but tastes and feels like the real thing.  That would be an incredibly huge boon for a sustainable environment.  Meat production is incredibly inefficient as compared to plant production (a lot of resources go into simply keeping a cow, pig, etc., alive).  Not to mention, the very questionable morality of how we treat factory farm raised animals.  A couple weeks ago the Times ran a story on the efforts to create synthetic meat in a test tube, i.e., culturing real animal cells and “growing” meat in a lab.  Turns out, it’s really, really hard:

The hamburger, assembled from tiny bits of beef muscle tissue grown in a laboratory and to be cooked and eaten at an event in London, perhaps in a few weeks, is meant to show the world — including potential sources of research funds — that so-called in vitro meat, or cultured meat, is a reality.

“Let’s make a proof of concept, and change the discussion from ‘this is never going to work’ to, ‘well, we actually showed that it works, but now we need to get funding and work on it,’ “ Dr. Post said in an interview last fall in his office at Maastricht University…

The idea of creating meat in a laboratory — actual animal tissue, not a substitute made from soybeans or other protein sources — has been around for decades. The arguments in favor of it are many, covering both animal welfare and environmental issues…

Yet growing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November.

His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side by side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.

Intriguing.  And though it is clearly absurdly expensive right now, it’s not hard to imagine a future where this has actually become affordable.  That said, based on what I’ve read about fake meat made from vegetable material versus “cultured meat” made from real animal cells, I’m putting my money on the former.  Either way, I would love it if my grandkids grow up eating great tasting burgers made from vegetable protein or animal protein grown in a lab.  Either way, that’s a huge advance for the environment and animal welfare.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

6 Responses to Test tube burger

  1. Deborah Ferry says:

    Interesting but I think I’ll let someone else try it first. I can see why, however, cattle and other livestock would really like meat to be grown in vitro.

  2. pino says:

    Either way, I would love it if my grandkids grow up eating great tasting burgers made from vegetable protein or animal protein grown in a lab. Either way, that’s a huge advance for the environment and animal welfare.

    Isn’t this GMO in a different form?

    • Steve Greene says:

      Presumably (though I’m not sure of the precise definition of GMO). I hope you are not just assuming that liberals automatically oppose GMO foods. https://fullymyelinated.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/liberalism-amok/

      • pino says:

        Presumably (though I’m not sure of the precise definition of GMO).

        Agreed, it’s a tough definition. I think that people use GMO to refer to genetic changes that have been engineered in a lab and not through breeding.

        I hope you are not just assuming that liberals automatically oppose GMO foods

        No, I’m assuming that virtually everyone opposes GMO foods. I’ve avoided the whole debate – I can’t follow everything – but was drawn in recently when a conservative friend of mine asked me my opinion. I read up on it and came to the same conclusion you did in the referenced post; good things but we have to be careful.

        I then posted on my Facebook page asking for input and the thing blew up! Everyone hates GMO, though they don’t seem to know why.

        This encompassed my republican, democrat and libertarian friends.

        If anything, I assume that liberals would hate the company, see Wal-Mart.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Wow– that’s kind of depressing. There’s very justifiable reasons to have serious concerns, but I suspect all too many hear “genetically modified” and simply freak out. This poll suggests most people don’t even think they are safe to eat. There’s zero evidence for that. The concerns are of a much larger, systemic impact. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97567&page=1#.Uajby4fvh8E

      • pino says:

        This poll suggests most people don’t even think they are safe to eat. There’s zero evidence for that.

        Yup.

        I don’t like the massive monoculture we may end up with.

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