Picture a sizzling, mouth-watering hamburger. That gorgeous, delicious patty sitting on the plate, fresh off the char-grilled… petri dish? This was the case in last Monday in London, where the world’s first lab-grown hamburger was cooked and served in front of an invitation audience.
The burger, developed by physiologist Mark Post of the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, is one-hundred-percent real meat. Post and his team grew the meat from cow stem cells, first differentiating the sample into muscle cells then placing them in a nutrient-rich solution. As the cells formed strands of flesh, the team exercised them with light tension, making them bigger and stronger (note to A-Rod—this was done without the use of performance-enhancing drugs). The final hamburger consisted of approximately 20,000 strands and took about three months to grow. As a last step, the team colored the meat with a mixture of beet juice and saffron—without blood vessels, the muscle is an unappetizing gray.
How did it taste? Not bad, apparently. The preparation and tasting took place in front of an invitation audience, where Chicago author Josh Schonwald and nutrition researcher Hanni Rützler tested the patty. Though both noted the taste and texture were a tad off, they seemed impressed by how closely the cultured meat resembled the real thing. Post believes the discrepancies can be solved by growing animal fat to mix with the meat (fat contributes the majority of flavor and juiciness to meat).
So can this burger save the world? Possibly. Rising populations threaten to exacerbate world hunger, and global meat consumption is expected to rise in the coming years. As Post notes, lab-grown meat could lend a significant hand in fighting these problems while saving animals from the slaughterhouse. Farmed cows also produce significant amounts of methane, so cutbacks in meat production would also fight global warming (see: cow farts). The lab-grown meat would also free up valuable land. While Post remarks that the greener solutions would be to distribute available food to those in need or just not eat meat, he considers his research a more realistic alternative.
The burger currently comes with a steep price tag—$325,000 to be exact. Even so, Post says not to worry. The goal of the project was to show it was possible, not to maximize economic efficiency, he explains. With current technology, he estimates the meat could go on the market in ten to twenty years at $70 per kilogram ($32 a pound). Note that these estimates are without optimizing any of the required technology.
My thoughts on this are two-fold: slimy…and awesome. Lab grown meat could be the wave of the future and a solution to a host of world problems. I’d hesitate to try one at first, but if researchers can minimize the differences, I’d jump on the bandwagon. As someone who already has ethical concerns about killing and eating animals, I find this idea very appealing. If the taste and technology are optimized (and the burgers don’t turn everybody into zombies), count me in.
It is worth noting the lab grown meat raises other philosophical questions. Is the burger kosher? Is it okay for a sworn vegetarian or vegan to indulge? Nobody seems to have an answer as of yet. I’m interested to hear what you all have to say about these questions and the whole idea in general. Is it awesome? Nasty? A magic bullet? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. That small click really helps me out! Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday! IT’S FREE!
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Comment question of the week
Would you eat a lab-grown burger?