WASHINGTON, August 5, 2013- The world’s first test tube burger, made from meat grown in a lab, was cooked, served, and eaten today in London.
Grown in a laboratory in the Netherlands by a team of scientists led by Mark Post, a medical physiologist at Maastricht University, the burger is made up of 20,000 minuscule strips of muscle tissue grown from cow stem cells. A five-ounce portion cost close to $385,000 to produce, according to the Daily Mail.
The burger was cooked at West London’s Riverside Studios by chef Richard McGowan in front of a group of guests. Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based food writer, and Hanni Rutzler, an Austrian food researcher, were the official tasters.
The burger was made with salt, egg powder, and breadcrumbs. To give the burger patty a realistic beef color, beetroot juice and saffron were also added.
“There is quite some intense flavor,” Rutzler said. “The look was quite similar to meat. It has quite a bite.”
“There is a leanness to it,” Schonwald said. “The absence of fat is what makes it taste different.”
Creator Mark Post declared the taste test a success Monday afternoon. “I’m very excited. It took a long time to get this far,” said Post. “I think this is a very good start. I’m very happy with it.”
While the marketing of lab-cultured beef is still more than a decade away, this and other experimental techniques may ultimately help solve the problem of the world’s food crisis.
It is estimated that meat demand will double in the next 40 years due in large part to rising affluence in countries like China and Brazil. According to Post, we are already using 70% of the world’s agricultural capacity to grow livestock.
A 2011 study by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam concluded that producing lab-cultured meat would significantly reduce the amount of land, water, and fossil fuels currently used to raise livestock, as well as cut greenhouse emissions by up to 96%.
Beginning in 2008, the project was initially funded by the Dutch government, but stalled when it ran out of money. A $330,000 donation from Google co-founder Sergey Brin kept it going.
Science is still far from creating a piece of lab-grown steak, however. Post and others have started with ground beef because steak presents more technical challenges. After a piece of meat grows over one millimeter thick, it requires a blood vessel system to carry oxygen and nutrients to the tissue’s center. Chicken and fish may be slightly easier to replicate, according to Post.
Several others are joining Post in attempting to create a lab-grown meat. Gabor Forgacs, founder of Modern Meadows and researcher at the University of Missouri is trying to build bigger pieces of beef from muscle cells using 3D printing technology. Last year the company received $350,000 from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Additionally, in 2008 PETA offered $1 million to the first company able to successfully manufacture and market test tube meat by 2012. As nobody has claimed the prize yet, PETA has extended the deadline to 2013.
“There is something inherently creepy about [growing meat in a lab],” said The New Yorker’s Michael Specter in a 2011 interview with NPR. “But there is something more inherently creepy about the way we deal with the animals that we eat. … They live a horrible life, and they often die quite cruelly. So the idea of being able to eliminate some of that is extremely exciting for a lot of people.”
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