x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Test-tube dinner

It sounds like science fiction, but in vitro meat may be on the dinner table soon.

You can call it "Frankenburgers" or "synthetic steak" or "in vitro veal" or "cultured meat" or … well, let's face it, there is no appetising name for this stuff. But it's coming. A hungry world is demanding more animal protein each year, while economic, environmental and ethical concerns all limit supply. The solution may well come from a test tube.

Scientists at the University of Maastricht, in the Netherlands, have unveiled a pale goo which will, they hope, be the forerunner of an important new source of sustainable nutrition: synthetic meat.

Biologists feed animal stem cells a brew of sugars, minerals, amino acids and more, and they grow into the little strips now on display. There's a long way to go but conceptually the process is plain.

Still not convinced? Advocates say that much of today's supermarket meat, from penned animals fed antibiotics and growth hormones, is somewhat synthetic already, to say nothing of what goes into chicken nuggets. And with over 50 per cent of farmland now used for livestock, rising demand makes current methods unsustainable.

In countless industries, cheap alternative products have supplanted artisanal methods, and consumers have responded with enthusiasm. The 21st century is still young: meat could follow the same pattern. Either that, or it could turn us all vegetarian.