World's first lab-grown burger to be cooked and eaten


Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University explains how he and his colleagues made the world's first lab-grown burger

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The world's first lab-grown burger is to be unveiled and eaten at a news conference in London on Monday.

Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle which they combined to make a patty.

Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat.

Critics say that eating less meat would be an easier way to tackle predicted food shortages.

BBC News has been granted exclusive access to the laboratory where the meat was grown in a project costing £215,000.

Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, the scientist behind the burger, said: "Later today we are going to present the world's first hamburger made in a lab from cells. We are doing that because livestock production is not good for the environment, it is not going to meet demand for the world and it is not good for animals".

But Prof Tara Garnett, head of the Food Policy Research Network at Oxford University, said decision-makers needed to look beyond technological solutions.

"We have a situation where 1.4 billion people in the world are overweight and obese, and at the same time one billion people worldwide go to bed hungry," she said.

"That's just weird and unacceptable. The solutions don't just lie with producing more food but changing the systems of supply and access and affordability so not just more food but better food gets to the people who need it."

Comparing the environmental impact of conventional and laboratory beef production An independent study found that lab grown beef uses 45% less energy than the average global representative figure for farming cattle. It also produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires 99% less land.

Start Quote

We are doing this because livestock production is not good for the environment, it is not going to meet demand for the world and it is not good for animals"”

End Quote Prof Mark Post Maastricht University

Stem cells are the body's "master cells", the templates from which specialised tissue, such as nerve or skin cells develop.

Most institutes working in this area are trying to grow human tissue for transplantation, to replace worn out or diseased muscle, nerve cells or cartilage.

Prof Post wants to use similar techniques to grow muscle and fat for food.

This might sound a little creepy to some - but Prof Post is no Dr Frankenstein. He's normal and likeable; when he talks about his project there is a gleam in his eye.

He starts with stem cells extracted from cow muscle tissue. In the laboratory, these are cultured with nutrients and growth promoting chemicals to help them develop and multiply. Three weeks later, there are more than a million stem cells which are put into smaller dishes where they coalesce into small strips of muscle about a centimetre long and a few millimetres thick.

These strips are collected into small pellets which are frozen. When there are enough, they are defrosted and compacted into a patty just before being cooked.

The scientists have tried to make the meat - which is initially white in colour - as authentic as possible. Helen Breewood, who is working with Prof Post, makes the lab-grown muscle look red by adding the naturally occurring compound myoglobin.

How would lab grown meat go down? The BBC's Pallab Ghosh asked the clientele of Duggie's Dogs hot dog restaurant in downtown Vancouver

Start Quote

A lot of people consider lab-grown meat repulsive. But if they consider what goes into producing normal meat in a slaughter house I think they would also find that repulsive”

End Quote Helen Breewood Project scientist and vegetarian

"If it doesn't look like normal meat, if it doesn't taste like normal meat, it's not... going to be a viable replacement," she told me.

Currently, this is a work in progress. The burger to be revealed on Monday will be coloured red with beetroot juice. The researchers have also added breadcrumbs, caramel and saffron, which will add add to the taste.

At the moment, scientists can only make small pieces of meat; larger ones would require artificial circulatory systems to distribute nutrients and oxygen.

Prof Post said initial sampling suggests the burger will not taste great, but he expected it to be "good enough". The meat will be tasted a team which includes Josh Schonwald, a food writer from Chicago, and Richard McGowan, a chef from Cornwall.

Animal suffering

Ms Breewood is a vegetarian because she believes meat production to be waste of resources, but says she would eat lab-grown meat.

Burger The aim is to make the lab-grown burger look and taste like the real thing. But it isn't there yet.

"A lot of people consider lab-grown meat repulsive at first. But if they consider what goes into producing normal meat in a slaughter house I think they would also find that repulsive," she said.

In a statement, animal welfare campaigners People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said: "[Lab-grown meat] will spell the end of lorries full of cows and chickens, abattoirs and factory farming. It will reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and make the food supply safer."

But food writer Sybil Kapoor said she felt "uneasy": "The further you go from a normal, natural diet the more potential risks people can run in terms of health and other issues," she said.

The latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report on the future of agriculture indicates that most of the predicted growth in demand for meat from China and Brazil has already happened and many Indians are wedded to their largely vegetarian diets for cultural and culinary reasons.

So lab grown meat might turn out to be a technological solution in search of a problem.

Follow Pallab on Twitter @bbcpallab


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  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    @159 (bbc)
    I do... meat is great,.... been eaten since man was 'born'... these fads of being a vegetarian are boring... your ancestors would not be around had it not been for this so called flesh!

  • Comment number 164.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    There is a world food shortage only because the planet is over-populated. The same fact is also responsible for the rise in greenhouse gases. If we were to stop breeding animals for food they would become extinct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Issue is the human population is over the limit of what the planet can cope with and it is just increasing even more!

    Something needs to be done maybe reducing meat from diets as well.

    Sounds horrible but the human race is in need of some sort of catastrophe to put things back in balance, problem is our technology is too good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The donor cells still have to be taken from the specified animal. If they could get round that we could still see the advent of the Halal pork chop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Yuk. The answer to world hunger is not to feed the populace crap, produced in a lab or otherwise, but home grown food, and where tht is not possible, import good quality food.

    If the BILLIONS wasted on war was redirected into helping people feed themselves we could feed the world., and ,ore importantly, there is enough clean water in the world to share.

    Make the rich contribute as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    What a waste of time & money! Asian Vegetarian Cuisine is healthy, cheap & full of variety - don't even miss meat! Who wants to eat dead flesh? Yuk!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Another small step towards humans being able to live and work in space.
    I know a lot of people think this is a waste of time, but to ensure survival putting some eggs in a different basket is never a bad idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    "Every living thing on this planet was designed by nature to eat that which grows naturally. "
    Well nature has A LOT of inadequacies, and I wouldn't want to use nature as a template of how to live I am sure you will agree.
    Really exciting article, go technology!

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    The real answer to world hunger (and many, many other problems) is fewer people - however this kind of production could have a very important role to play - and if it turns out that the product is nutritionally safe and equivalent then it's a real breakthrough on all kinds of levels. It will at least give the anti-GM/Fracking/nuclear brigade something new to target. All good exercise for them 8-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Synthetic meat, if it tastes anything like quorn style sausages, keep Slaughtering animals is my view.

    This wont happen in my or the next 2 generations.. the day synthetic bacon tastes as good, will be the day things will change

    mmmmm bacon!

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    It'll probably turn out to be horse

  • Comment number 153.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    The science is interesting. But, is textured animal protein going to be any better than textured vegetable protein? They both need colouring, flavouring and other faffing about to make a sellable product.

  • Comment number 151.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Absolutely disgusting......I never eat the shop or fast food things anyway i make my own. I know what goes in them, farm fresh reared cows. There is no way I would trust "scientists" breeding muscle tissue either.The thought just makes me feel sick.As for the excuses....environmental impact, animal suffering, etc...utter rubbish. Go & buy your meat from your 'nearest' butcher.mines 30 miles away!

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.


    Well that is not a whole lot of protein then 185g cooked quinoa = 8g of protien. 100g cooked beef = 29g protien.

    As far as protein goes nothing compares to meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Trouble is, this doesn't stop with food. My 'entrepreneur' cousin reckons he’s made a 3D printer in his garage & can perfectly replicate human flesh using ‘patented enzymes’.

    Last time I was round he showed me his latest creation- he’d ‘scanned’ a local 19YO girl into the machine (don't know how he persuaded her) & could now ‘print’ as many copies of her as he wanted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    I think this is a fantastic advance. A lot of meat eaters like the taste of meat and the nutrients it provides but are distinctly uncomfortable about the ethics of it all.

    I gradually gave up eating meat about ten years ago. Would I eat synthetically produced meat? No. But if I was still eating meat, yes. Sounds a lot cleaner and healthier as well as good for animals and the environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Has any one thought about the possible side efects of these burgers five, ten or twenty years later, Remember the BSE (mad cow disease ) and how long that took to manifest itself, How safe are these burgers?


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