Lab-grown burgers edge closer to menus
A Dutch team of scientists hopes to serve the first laboratory-made burger in the world in five years, and even eyes setting up a company to make the burger tasty and affordable.
Professor Mark Post developed the lab-grown burger – made from stem cells, the templates from which allow growth of specialized tissue like skin or nerve cells – in his lab facility in Maastricht, The Netherlands.
The team developed a prototype cooked and consumed in London in 2013 that cost £215,000 (about $332,000) to make.
Peter Verstrate, head of the new firm Mosa Meat that collaborates with Post’s team and will steer the technology forward, said they are extremely excited about putting the product on sale. “Increasing numbers of people will find it hard not to buy our product for ethical reasons,” he asserted.
He expressed confidence in having the lab burger on the market in five years, explaining it would likely be available as an exclusive item in the beginning, but would be on the grocery shelves given a demand that will drive the price down.
Professor Post – unlike most other researchers mostly attempting to grow human tissue to be transplanted as a replacement for ill or worn-out muscle, nerve cells, or cartilage – used the tissue to grow fat and muscle for his lab burger.
The goal for developing the burger was to meet the growing demand for meat, where traditional farming methods were seen to be energy-intensive and causing higher greenhouse gas emission.
The process of developing a lab burger starts with extracting stem cells from cow muscle tissue, which are then cultured with nutrients and growth-inducing chemicals for them to multiply. After three weeks, over a million stem cells manifest and they are placed in smaller dishes and form into centimeter-long and a couple of millimeters-thick muscle strips.
The strips are then cooked and layered, colored, and mixed with fat, forming a burger that was cooked and eaten at a London press conference two years ago.
Austrian food researcher Hanni Rutzler, one of those who sampled the lab burger at the 2013 event, was “expecting the texture to be more soft” but after 27 chews and swallowing a mouthful concluded it was “close to meat… [but] not that juicy.”
Verstrate said the product back then was composed of protein and muscle fiber, and that tissue engineering technologies were necessary to mimic actual meat.
Mosa Meat, with plans to hire up to 25 scientists and lab technicians for developing and mass-producing the product, intends to develop lab-made minced meat that tastes like the real thing and approximates actual meat costs.
The exact cost of the lab burgers is yet to be determined, but earlier in 2015 Post’s team announced that it has slashed its price to just a little more than $11 per burger or $36 per pound of cow-free beef.
The scientists are also looking to explore making chops and steaks with 3D printing technology, which is more likely to take longer in commercial production.