London: First tasting for test-tube burger

Will the new-style laboratory-made burger become mainstream?

Will the new-style laboratory-made burger become mainstream? - Credit: Archant

A slice of history will be served today when the world’s first test-tube burger, made from lab-grown meat, is cooked and eaten in London.

The 5oz (142g) patty, which cost £250,000 to produce, will be dished up by its creator before an invited audience.

Scientist-turned-chef Professor Mark Post produced the burger from 20,000 tiny strips of meat grown from cow stem cells.

He believes it could herald a food revolution, with artificial meat products appearing in supermarkets in as little as 10 years.

Prof Post’s team at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands conducted experiments which progressed from mouse meat to pork and finally beef.

He said: “What we are going to attempt is important because I hope it will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces.

“Our burger is made from muscle cells taken from a cow. We haven’t altered them in any way. For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing.”

Most Read

The demonstration was originally planned for October last year, with celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal cooking the burger for a mystery guest.

The burger will be fried in a pan and tasted by two volunteers, one of whom may be the anonymous businessman who funded the research.

The raw ingredients sound distinctly unappetising - 0.02in (0.5mm) thick strips of pinkish yellow lab-grown tissue.

But Prof Post is confident he can produce a burger that is almost indistinguishable from one made from a slaughtered animal.

He points out that livestock farming is becoming unsustainable, with demand for meat rocketing around the world.

Unveiling the research last year at a science meeting in Vancouver, Canada, he said: “Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years. Right now we are using 70% of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock. You can easily calculate that we need alternatives.”

A multi-step process is used to turn a dish of stem cells into a burger that can be grilled or fried.

First the stem cells are cultivated in a nutrient broth, allowing them to proliferate 30-fold.

Next they are combined with an elastic collagen and attached to Velcro “anchor points” in a culture dish. Between the anchor points, the cells self-organise into chunks of muscle.

Electrical stimulation is then used to make the muscle strips contract and “bulk up” - the laboratory equivalent of working out in a gym.

Finally the thousands of beef strips are minced up, together with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, and moulded into a patty. Around 20,000 meat strands are needed to make one 5oz (142g) burger.

Other non-meat ingredients include salt, egg powder, and breadcrumbs. Red beetroot juice and saffron are added to provide authentic beef colouring.

A major advantage of test-tube meat is that it can be customised for health, for instance by boosting levels of polyunsaturated fats, said Prof Post.

Manufacturing steaks instead of minced meat presents a much greater technical challenge, requiring some kind of blood vessel system to carry nutrients and oxygen to the centre of the tissue, he added. Making artificial chicken or fish from stem cells might be easier.

The animal welfare organisation Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) welcomed the research.

A spokesman said: “One day you will be able to eat meat with ethical impunity. In-vitro technology 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..

“Lab-grown meat will provide people who were addicted from childhood to the saturated fat in flesh with the ‘methadone’ for their habit.”

ends