LONDON // "Cultured meat" - burgers or sausages grown in Petri dishes rather than made from slaughtered livestock - could save the world's ever-growing hunger for meat, some scientists say.
It may take a while to catch on, and it will not be cheap.
The first lab-grown hamburger will cost around €250,000 (Dh1.26m) to produce, according to Mark Post, a vascular biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, who hopes to unveil such a delicacy soon.
Experts say the meat's potential for saving land, water, energy, animals' lives and the planet itself could be enormous.
"The first one will be a proof of concept, just to show it's possible," Mr Post said in an interview from his Maastricht lab. "I believe I can do this in the coming year."
It may sound and look like some kind of imitation, but in-vitro or cultured meat is a real animal flesh product, just one that has never been part of a complete, living animal.
Using stem cells harvested from leftover animal material from slaughterhouses, Mr Post nurtures them with a feed concocted of sugars, amino acids, lipids, minerals and all other nutrients they need to grow in the right way. So far he has produced whitish pale muscle-like strips, each of them around 2.5 cm long, less than a centimetre wide and so thin as to be almost see-through.
Pack enough of these together - probably around 3,000 of them in layers - throw in a few strips of lab-grown fat, and you have the world's first "cultured meat" burger, he says.
Not to mention a little unappetising. Since Mr Post's in-vitro meat contains no blood, it lacks colour. At the moment, it looks a bit like the flesh of scallops, he says.
But supporters of the idea of man-made meat, such as Stellan Welin, a bioethicist at Linkoping University in Sweden, say it is no less appealing than mass-producing livestock in factory farms where growth hormones and antibiotics are commonly used to boost yields and profits.