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April 29th, 2013

I’ll Have the Test-Tube Burger, Please

Taste testers in London may soon sample their first in vitro burger – muscle tissue grown from animal cells in a laboratory. The sci-fi meal is part of a growing trend in research that aims to figure out how to keep up with the world’s food demand, which is estimated to double by the year 2030.

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A more sustainable, eco-friendly, and humane solution is something that hasn’t been invented yet but is possibly months away.

Dutch scientists anticipate grilling up their first in vitro burger this year in London. Details of the where and when of this event haven’t been revealed yet, but physiologist Dr. Mark Post said he wants famous British chefs Heston Blumenthal or Jamie Oliver to cook his creation.

Idea of growing meat is nothing new

Britain has long aspired to make meat without killing animals.

In 1932, British political leader Winston Churchill said, “50 years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

But as scientists get closer to developing edible lab-grown meat, they’re increasingly challenged by the ‘yuck factor.’ They have to create a product that’s nutritionally and visually similar, but also tastes good. Meat grown from tissue cells does not have blood, fat or other materials that make meat taste like, well, meat.

Why Lab Meat?

Conventional livestock practices are unsustainable due to the current rate of meat consumption, population growth, and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by livestock, according to the U.N. and World Health Organization. The world’s population is estimated to grow from 7 billion to around 9 billion by 2050, and global demand for meat will double in the next 40 years.

Livestock is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions and cattle consume 10 percent of the world’s fresh water supplies. In the United States, 9 billion animals are killed for food each year.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) support the creation of a sustainable and humane solution and in 2008 announced a $1 million reward to the first laboratory to create and mass-market lab-produced chicken. This contest was set to expire June 30, 2012 but since there was no winner, the competition has been extended to June 2013.

How do they make it?

Extraction: Dr. Mark Post and his team at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, take muscle stem cells from living cattle through biopsy.

Cultivation: The cells are placed in nutrient broth-filled petri dishes that help the cells to grow.

Expansion: The cells are attached to biodegradable scaffolding platforms where they are “exercised” to promote bulk growth and are then stretched upon Velcro boards.

Combination: The 3000 muscle strips and approximately 200 fat strips are minced together to created synthetic hamburger meat.

Dr. Post invited reporters to his lab a year ago to demonstrate this process and the product. He was reportedly unsatisfied with the texture and taste and is working on improvements for the big debut in London sometime this spring.

Post told Reuters News, the cost of producing the first lab-grown burger is around $345,000 – a bit more expensive than your McDonald’s dollar-menu hamburger. Mass production of synthetic meat is still years away, but Post believes once the technology has been developed, synthetic meat may be in your grocer’s meat aisle sometime in the next 20 years.

– Compiled by Mallory Sofastaii for NewsHour Extra

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