x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Frankenburger' grown by scientists in a lab

A Dutch scientist will today unveil the world's first beef burger created by stem cells harvested from a living cow, moving a step closer toward offering a sustainable alternative to meat production.

A  sample of  lab-grown meat in a petri dish at Maastricht University. Scientists were  set to unveil the world's first lab-grown beef burger, serving it up fried to volunteers in London. AFP Photo
A sample of lab-grown meat in a petri dish at Maastricht University. Scientists were set to unveil the world's first lab-grown beef burger, serving it up fried to volunteers in London. AFP Photo

A Dutch scientist will today unveil the world's first beef burger created by stem cells harvested from a living cow, moving a step closer toward offering a sustainable alternative to meat production.

The 5-ounce burger cost more than €250,000 (Dh1.22m) to produce, with the research being funded by an anonymous individual, said the scientist, Mark Post of Maastricht University.

Two volunteers have agreed to sample the steak, which will be fried in a pan at a tasting event in London today.

Mr Post is among scientists including those at Modern Meadow and New Harvest who are experimenting with ways to grow meat in labs as an alternative to raising livestock, which contributes 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and uses 30 per cent of the world's ice-free land, according to an Oxford University study.

Commercial production could begin in a decade or two, according to Mr Post, whose work on cultured beef began in 2008.

"I hope it will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces," he said in a statement before the tasting event. "For it to succeed, it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing."

The muscle stem cells, taken by harmless biopsy from living cows, are fed and nurtured so they multiply to create muscle tissue. The cells grow into strands, and 20,000 of them get combined to create one burger. One sample of cells is enough to create up to 20,000 tons of meat in the lab, he said.

What isn't clear is the method Dr Post is using to multiply the cells. Current options for nutrients, usually the most expensive part of the process, include foetal bovine serum, taken from the blood of calf foetuses, and blue-green algae, said Neil Stephens, who studies developments in in-vitro meat research at Cardiff University's Cesagen research centre and School of Social Sciences.

The cost is currently the main obstacle to mass production, Mr Stephens said. Foetal bovine serum, also used to make vaccines, costs about $250 per litre, with up to three foetuses required to produce each litre, according to a recent paper published in the journal Regenerative Medicine.

Any association with genetically modified foods is unwarranted, according to Post. "Cultured beef is normal beef," he said. "It consists of cow cells."

Scientists growing lab steaks say alternatives are needed to avoid depleting too much of the earth's resources as the world population increases and meat consumption grows. Cultured meat production uses up to 60 per cent less energy, resulting in up to 95 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions and 98 per cent lower land use compared with conventional production in Europe, according to a study conducted by Oxford University and University of Amsterdam researchers and funded by New Harvest, a non-profit cultured meat research group.

In Columbia, Missouri, Andras Forgacs and his father Gabor are growing meat and leather using bioprinting, the 3-D assembly of tissues driven by computer-controlled processes.

"We've already been growing food with cultures to make beer, wine, yogurt," the younger Forgacs said at a TED talk in Edinburgh in June. "It's clean, efficient and humane. Perhaps we are ready for something literally and figuratively more cultured."

It's too early to know whether the public is ready to adopt meat that comes from the lab, though so far there hasn't been much organised resistance from vegetarians or industrial producers. Acceptance of in-vitro fertilisation could serve to gauge society's response to cultured beef, according to Stephens of Cardiff University.

"What's weirder?" he said. "Growing meat in a dish or growing people in a dish?"