Scientists hope in-vitro meat can ‘feed the world’


By Kate Kelland, Reuters

LONDON — Scientists are cooking up new ways of satisfying the world’s ever-growing hunger for meat. “Cultured meat” — burgers or sausages grown in laboratory Petri dishes rather than made from slaughtered livestock — could be the answer that feeds the world, saves the environment and spares the lives of millions of animals, they say. Granted, it may take a while to catch on. And it won’t be cheap. The first lab-grown hamburger will cost around 250,000 euros (US$345,000) to produce, according to Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, who hopes to unveil such a delicacy soon. Experts say the meat’s potential for saving animals’ lives, land, water, energy and the planet itself could be enormous. “The first one will be a proof of concept, just to show it’s possible,” Post told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Maastricht lab. “I believe I can do this in the coming year.”

It may sound and look like some kind of imitation, but in-vitro or cultured meat is a real animal flesh product, just one that has never been part of a complete, living animal — quite different from imitation meat or meat substitutes aimed at vegetarians and made from vegetable proteins like soy. Stem Cells Using stem cells harvested from leftover animal material from slaughterhouses, Post nurtures them with a feed concocted of sugars, amino acids, lipids, minerals and all other nutrients they need to grow in the right way. So far he has produced whitish pale muscle-like strips, each of them around 2.5 cm (1 inch) long, less than a centimeter wide and so thin as to be almost see-through. Pack enough of these together — probably around 3,000 of them in layers — throw in a few strips of lab-grown fat, and you have the world’s first “cultured meat” burger, he says. “This first one will be grown in an academic lab, by highly trained academic staff,” he said. “It’s hand-made and it’s time and labor-intensive, that’s why it’s so expensive to produce.”