Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Would you eat a test-tube burger?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Dutch stem cell scientist Dr. Mark Post from the University of Maastricht, plans to unveil the world's first test-tube burger as early as Oct. 2012. That's right, people: in vitro— it's not just for baby-making anymore.

Making synthetic meat
  • Making synthetic meat

According to Time, here's how the process works:

Scientists biopsy stem or satellite muscle cells from a livestock animal, such as a chicken, cow or pig. The cells are then placed in a nutrient-rich medium where they divide and multiply, and are then attached to a scaffolding structure and put in a bioreactor to grow. In order to achieve the texture of natural muscle, the cells must be physically stretched and flexed, or exercised, regularly. After several weeks, voila, you have a thin layer of muscle tissue that can be harvested and processed into ground beef, chicken or pork, depending on the origin of the cells.

The Guardian reports that as of right now, "Dr. Post is still working with unappetising half-millimetre thick strips of lab-grown meat that are pinky-yellow in colour." Post and his team, however, remain confident that "over the course of this year he will produce a burger virtually indistinguishable" from the real thing. Indistinguishable, that is, except for the in vitro burger's price tag: a staggering 250,000 euros, or approximately $330,000 per sandwich.

The Guardian also reports that once this "virtually indistinguishable" lab meat makes its debut, chef Heston Marc Blumenthal, owner of The Fat Duck, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, will have the honor of cooking the world's first test-tube burger. "The current plan is for Blumenthal to cook it for a mystery guest, to be chosen by the research project's anonymous funder."

What does PETA have to say about all this? In the face of a viable meat product that doesn't come from killing animals, one may be so inclined to inquire where the ubiquitous vegan organization stands on the issue. Interestingly, you may remember that in 2008, PETA launched a competition offering a "$1 million prize to the contest participant able to make the first in vitro chicken meat and sell it to the public by June 30, 2012."

More after the jump

According to PETA's website, contestants must "produce an in vitro chicken-meat product that has a taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike." And, "manufacture the approved product in large enough quantities to be sold commercially, and successfully sell it at a competitive price in at least 10 states."

In response to Dr. Post's work and the 2008 competition, spokesperson Alistair Currie said that "PETA praised the development of the 'Frankenburger' as a step forward for animal rights. But...the burger did not meet the terms of [the] competition launched four years ago."

Even so, advocates hope that Dr. Post's work will offset livestock diseases that spread to humans, and reduce the amount of resources consumed by factory farming.

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