Scientists serve lab-made burger from cow cells
For hamburgers that cost more than $300,000 to produce, you might expect fries and a shake too.
But this is no ordinary burger being served to two volunteer taste-testers in London on Monday. This meat was grown in a laboratory from stem cells of cattle.
Mark Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger after five years of research, hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help solve the food crisis and fight climate change.
But Post says success doesn't hinge on science. "For the burger to succeed it has to look, feel and taste like the real thing," he said.
The meat was made from cow muscle cells from two organic cows. The resulting patties will be seasoned with salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beet juice and saffron.
Post and colleagues took muscle cells from a cow and put them into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue. The muscle cells grew into small strands of meat, and it takes nearly 20,000 strands to make one 140-gram (5-ounce) burger.
The project cost 250,000 euros ($332,000).
"I'm a vegetarian but I would be first in line to try this," said Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn't involved in the burger research.
Experts say new ways of producing meat are needed to satisfy growing carnivorous appetites without exhausting resources. By 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts global meat consumption will double as more people in developing countries can afford it. Breeding animals destined for the dinner table takes up about 70 percent of all agricultural land.
The animal rights group PETA has thrown its support behind the lab-meat initiative.
"As long as there's anybody who's willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this," said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's president and co-founder. "Instead of the millions and billions (of animals) being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops."
If the burger doesn't taste right, some scientists said the flavor can easily be tweaked.
"Taste is the least (important) problem since this could be controlled by letting some of the stem cells develop into fat cells," said Stig Omholt, director of biotechnology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Adding fat to the burgers this way would probably be healthier than getting it from naturally chunky cows, Omholt said.
Post and his colleagues have tasted the meat in the lab, and he said they cooked a test burger on Sunday.
Even if Monday's public taste test is positive, it would be years before such burgers hit the market.
"The first (lab-made) meat products are going to be very exclusive," said Isha Datar, director of New Harvest, an international non-profit that promotes meat alternatives. "These burgers won't be in Happy Meals before someone rich and famous is eating it."
UPDATE: First reaction: lab-made burger lacks flavor
They bit, they chewed, but had hoped for more flavor.
Two volunteers who participated in the first public frying of hamburger grown in a lab said Monday that it had the texture of meat but was short of flavor because of the lack of fat.
Mark Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger, hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help feed the world and fight climate change.
Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, announced that he funded the 250,000-euro ($330,000) project because of his concern for animal welfare.
Austrian nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler, one of the testers, says it was "close to meat" but "not that juicy." U.S. journalist Josh Schonwald made similar comments.