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 565.

    @543.Dirty Old Town M6 ,
    Precisely,.. the people of Okinawa also eat seafood(fish is meat),.. so NOT entirely vegetarian,.. just not McLardasses either,.. hence the point I made was a little meat is healthy, and better than none at all,.. just that most of modern society is getting too much of a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    Scientists need to get a grip.

    We grow fruit and veg...not meat.

    Something very wrong and very disturbing about this article.

    I would never eat this....ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    As keepers of this earth someday we as humans are going to realize all of the science done by big business wasn’t for the good of the earth, We will be thankful for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to replenish the earths plants that science destroyed .Mind you nothing can be done about our livestock that these same people are re-engineering due to greed not from demands for meeting world hunger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    Of course, it's not mentioned that the "nutrients and growth promoting chemicals" the cells are grown in includes 10% fetal calf serum, which is standard for growing most kinds of mammalian cells. FCS is both expensive to make (and therefore use) and, I would think, not considered cruelty-free for those who are concerned with that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    @555 Not quite as squeaky clean as you portray them check the RSPCA/ SSPCA prosecutions of farmers
    As for abbatoirs there are many recorded cases of cruelty and a reluctance to install CC TV cameras. Plenty of undercover footage to support this.
    Best practice my.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    Ahhh great...nice to see so many people commenting who have no clue what they're talking about and can't see the potential in these kinds of research (not that I'm saying these would be yummy...) This is exactly why the general public should not get a say on what kinds of scientific research are carried out in this country...

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    That's absolute rubbish. A family friend of mine stopped working for a abattoir a couple of months ago and that's not the same story he would tell. They may be inspected regularly but what about in-between the inspections? There have also been documentaries on tv showing how badly some of the animals are treated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    Let's hope those who consumed this Frankenfood don't come down with a case of mad scientist disease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    All humans have evolved on eating meat, wheat and dairy. We will not evolve into a superior species on a meat free diet, this is biochemically impossible. If this lab created substance does not contain quantities of iron, zinc, 7 of the 8 B vitamins as well as all 9 of the ESSENTIAL amino acids equal to beef, that all humans must have to live thrive and survive, then it is NOT meat. Ban fake food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    The potential is exciting. Not just the environmental benefits. But given the stages of a new technological development, at first a new alternative is worse in most ways, more expensive, lower quality, difficult to produce. But in time, not only may we have cheap, easy to produce meat - it may in fact be much better, more meatier, more leaner, tender. Perhaps even INVENT new flesh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    Far better to keep millions of animals in appauling, cruel and disease-ridden conditions before butchering them in the most cruel way imaginable, chopping them up and feeding their dead, chemically polluted flesh to our 'future generations'.

    You have clearly never been to a farm let alone an abbatoir. Both are heavily audited in the UK to ensure ex standards and best practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    Following the horse meat scandal I can only wonder what they would adulterate this frankenfood with?

    Artificual soylent green anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    Maybe we could use bio-nanotechnology as part of a laminate shield against radiation during long space missions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    Absolutely agree it's your choice you pays your money you take your chances. I'm veggie purely for ethical reasons and although I agree the moral dimension is taken out of this scenario, would I eat it if I weren't a vegetarian, honestly, probably not ?
    Have a nice day !

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    Lab-grown meat?? Imagine what the caveman would think!!! So many things wrong with this!! Natural is the way to go!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    Look, I am not a vegetarian because the meat repulses me. I choose to eat the foods I do because of the way meat is produced for consumption, so if this method becomes commercially viable then I would go back to eating meat.

    Do I miss the taste of meat? Yes. Even years after become a vegetarian I can still remember the taste, it will never leave me. Here is your commercial reason to make lab meat

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    543.Dirty Old Town M6
    Humans are not carnivores or herbivores, we are omnivores. If we have a diet too far 1 way or the other then our health will suffer as we risk not getting everything (& in the quantities required) for our bodies to function correctly. If you wish proof, look at your own teeth. Both cutting edged for getting through meat & flat grinding teeth for grains etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    I'm staggered and disturbed at the ignorance of some people on this thread.

    'I wont try this until I'm sure it is safe, until then I'll stick with the meat I eat'.

    You have no idea what you're eating! If you think what you're currently eating is safer, visit an abattoir, you might find your mind changes pretty quickly

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    Can't help but feel there are better ways to spend 215k. No way i'd be eating lab-made meat while there are still fruits and veg in the world. How long before this becomes the McLabbie - grim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    Whoppee lots of unnecessary farmland to be built upon. No need for grazing lands we can have millions of homes instead. No rural landscape just more shopping centres and bigger food processing plants run by elite corporatists. Afterall, it's not farmers, who create the "dodgy" meat!


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