Science fiction writers have been writing about artificial meats for decades — often the trope is that poorer people eat the vat-grown stuff, while the idle rich get real cows. For now though, the reality has been reversed: a burger made of meat grown in a lab will set a hungry person back $325,000 (£216,000).
That’s one expensive burger, some 100,000 times more expensive than usual. The price is the amount of funding that Mark Post, a vascular physiologist at the University of Maastricht, got for his project of growing meat in a Petri dish rather than a cow. (The source of the funding hasn’t been revealed yet).
To make his meat, Post harvested stem cells from the waste of slaughterhouses. That doesn’t alter the fact that the cells themselves are still the same ones that are in a cow in any case.
Post added nutrients to the cells, causing them to grow into muscle tissue, which he then stretched out to “exercise” and keep it from atrophying. Lacking blood, the meat doesn’t have any color. And so far, the strips he’s made are only an inch or so long and very thin. But packing enough of them together produces a reasonable meat patty.
That’s what Pot plans to offer on Aug. 5: a taste of a burger made with the lab-grown meat at an invitation-only event.
Eating lab-grown meat isn’t just for people who are squeamish about eating animals (it seems unlikely that many vegetarians will be mollified by its vat-grown status). The real issue is that cow and pig meat is land and energy-intensive. And the demand for meat worldwide is going up as people become wealthier. Between the deforestation for pasture and the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, more meat production isn’t looking like a sustainable option.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of work that goes into growing stem cells into muscle, and when you add up the inputs it’s not clear culturing meat uses any less energy or generates less carbon, even if it is more indirect.
Credit: Roman Märzinger/Westend61/Corbis