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First public tasting of US$330,000 lab-grown burger

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August 5, 2013

The lab-grown burger was served with the usual trappings for presentation purposes

The lab-grown burger was served with the usual trappings for presentation purposes

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If Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University ever opens a burger bar, you might want to take a close look at the prices before you order. On Monday, at a press conference in London, a burger made by Post and his team was served that cost a cool €250,000 (about US$330,000). The reason? The beef that went into making it never saw a pasture and the people in the white coats who handed it to the chef weren't butchers, but bioengineers.

The purpose behind this incredibly expensive beefburger is to find new ways to increase meat production while reducing pressure on the environment and increasing animal welfare. According to the United Nations, there will be some nine billion people on Earth by the middle of this century. Globally, people are becoming more wealthy with a correspondingly greater appetite for meat and it’s projected that there will be a 130 percent increase in demand in East Asia and Pacific regions alone. If meat could be cultured and produced by industrial methods, it might reduce the environmental impact by reducing the amount of land being turned over to livestock.

“What we are trying today is important because I hope it will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces,” says Post. “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.”

The cultured beef burger took 20,000 individually grown strands of tissue

The event hosted by ITV London’s main anchor, Nina Hossain saw the cultured burger prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant in Polperro, Cornwall. Tasters included Josh Schonwald, Chicago-based author of Taste of Tomorrow, and Austrian food researcher Hanni Rützler. The burger was pan fried and presented on a bun with lettuce and tomato.

"The burger had a very bland, neutral flavor,” says Schonwald. “The thing that made it most similar to real beef was the texture. When I bit into it, I was impressed with the bite and how it had a kind of density that was familiar."

The idea of growing meat in a laboratory goes back to at least the 1920s and Post’s technique is based on the work of Dutch scientist Willem van Eelen, who developed a method of culturing meat based on stem cells. Unfortunately, stem cells only reproduce a finite number of times, so Post modified the technique by using myosatellite cells. These are cells that have already specialized enough to only produce muscle cells and aren't limited in how many times they reproduce.

The burger was prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant

The burger’s journey to the table is about as far from free range as one can imagine. Tissue samples were taken from cows on an organic farm, with the team claiming one sample could create up to 20,000 tons of beef. However, making the first burger was very labor intensive for far less return.

The muscle tissue was separated from the fat tissue and then separated into single cells. These myosatellite cells were then cultivated in a nutrient solution. As they multiplied, the cells naturally merged to form into strands called myotubes about 0.3 mm long, These myotubes were placed in a ring about a hub of gel in a Petri dish where the cells contracted as muscle cells are wont to do, and the tubes closed around the gel plug where they grew. Over time, these were collected until the scientists collected the 20,000 stands needed to make a 140 g (5 oz) burger.

At this point, the “burger” wasn't much to look at. Meat is actually a very complex structure made up of several different tissues, fed by blood and exercised as the animal moves around. The cultured beef was just muscle tissue and lacked the color provided naturally by hemoglobin, the texture provided by the different tissues and the flavors given to natural meat by various trace chemicals. To give it some of this back, the cultured beef, which looks more like flabby suet in its native state, was mixed with salt, egg powder, bread crumbs, red beet juice, caramel, and saffron. The end product looked like pre-seasoned ground beef that was very finely textured without a hint of fat or sinew.

According to Post, it may take ten years before cultured meat becomes a consumer product. Despite Monday’s very expensive dish, he says that even using today’s technology it would be possible to mass produce the cultured meat at around $70 per kilogram (2.2 lb) and that it will easily be possible to do better in the future.

The video below explains the rationale behind cultured beef.

Source: Cultured Beef

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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17 Comments

Yes, but will the Vegans eat it? Their only claim was that meat is taken from killing or harming life. :)

I'm totally in favor of artificial products like these though.

Just have to make sure it is well tested to make sure there are no long term implications from consumption of this.

Nairda
5th August, 2013 @ 11:02 pm PDT

I doubt vegans or nutritarians will eat this frankenfood.

Organics actually do not wear the soil down it is the heavily laden pesticide and herbicides that tire and kill soil. Eating meat does come with a high price of cattle using too much water. I personally think food in its natural form is the way it should be. Stop fixing what's not broken!

I noticed no one mentioned what this frankenburger is made from?

I'm sure it's right up there with The Japanese Crap burger http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-20072270-71/japanese-scientist-creates-poop-burger-surely-not/

People that work in labs should never be allowed to mess with the food chain. Our bodies can not digest or recognize this synthetic crap and that is why there is so much obesity and Cancer.

Soil n Green
6th August, 2013 @ 05:26 am PDT

@soil n green

"I noticed no one mentioned what this frankenburger is made from? "

actually they did:

“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.”

Koala
6th August, 2013 @ 09:25 am PDT

Cost wise comparing this to other sources of protein - would of been good to have actually compared this to fly larvae protein burghers etc

Would the food situation ever get so bad to the point of the resyk (2000AD - Mega City food factories - recycling corpses into protein)

- guess this is always an option - but would need to also look at recycling waste better. Becomming a cannibal and eating faeces doe not sound so appealing, but I guess it is all a source of potential food components.

myale
6th August, 2013 @ 09:28 am PDT

Presumably the burger is replicated bovine muscle tissue.....in which case it will have better contents than ANY fast food burger.

A recent study concluded that fast food burgers contain between3% and 16% actual meat. After water, the rest of the ingredients don't bear thinking about.

Dai Jones
6th August, 2013 @ 09:35 am PDT

This is the future. Car vs Horse? Car wins! The exact replication of tissue for food is only a matter of time. Chicken, duck, beef, pork, buffalo, moose, bear, horse... and variations of flavor. Corn fed. Grass fed...

Having worked on my Grandfather's ranch, picking out a cow to kill, was interesting in a disturbing sort of way. Sending Bessy to the slaughter house, well, well how indescribable. Some I guess get a kick out of this. You find them everywhere. I did not. Our grass fed cattle were ahead of the mass corn fed, steroid, medicated beasts, but still.

So here, is the control issue. Growing tissue, you can have complete control vs the Mystery Meat that so often is in your grocery store. "Franken Meat" need not be constructed to kill the consumer. Frankly I am more worried by the greed of the meat industry and Mad Cow problems. Very nasty this problem.

"I'll take two pounds of Franken Grass Nourished Ground Beef please, oh, and the Missus wants a pound & a half of Franken Smoke Roasted Turkey Breast, thinly sliced."

lwesson
6th August, 2013 @ 10:05 am PDT

@Soil n Green "I noticed no one mentioned what this frankenburger is made from? " - from what the article says, cultured myosatellite cells from the muscle tissue of the cow; I am not sure of the "nutrient solution" they use. Elsewhere, I heard that beet juice, saffron (which is quite expensive I thought), caramel and bread crumbs is added. I don't necessarily think they are using synthetic crap but rather redefining the idea of 'making dinner.' I personally would choose to occasional have the real thing.

mados123
6th August, 2013 @ 10:20 am PDT

Seeing as there is a plethora of problems with our currently existing "engineered" food, in comparison with natural, organic food.

Also, I've seen Eureka.. I have a natural hesitation about such meats.

Anyway, that said, the science fan in my has a little curiosity about this, though I still have massive doubts that this is even halfway a good idea.

The patty doesn't even look right, imo.

Micah James Houchin
6th August, 2013 @ 10:20 am PDT

Soil;

Read much? It was made of cultured cow muscle cells. Colored with beet juice. Doh.

As far as "improving animal welfare", that would start with the death of all the cattle it replaced. Most cattle are alive only to feed us, and if they were unnecessary, they'd be disposed of.

Brian Hall
6th August, 2013 @ 10:38 am PDT

If it's going to have any natural flavor at all, it's going to need at least a little bit of fat. Fat provides much of the flavor that red meat lovers love.

dandrews1138
6th August, 2013 @ 11:07 am PDT

If the burger does not have genes from other species, is it GMO free?

ezeflyer
6th August, 2013 @ 11:28 am PDT

Fascinating. Well done video. Write-up would benefit from acknowledging the context from which this idea came from-and risk getting sued from the Cattlemen Association.

I am an economic vegetarian/vegan. I dont buy into the meat industry. I choose so primarily because of the unsustainable issues with raising beef. (1 calorie out for every 100 in), not to mention the 10 fold need for more water and 4 fold increase in energy. Inhuman treatment to the 95% of the meat sold is a second reason, and the health issues are a third.

Would I eat this? It addresses the first and second issues nicely. But probably not the 3rd.

What's interesting is that wheat gluten (Seitan) has more protein than meat per pound, (http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/7738/1), and non of the health and inhumane issues, but not quite as accepted-as I found out recently while grilling some for the visiting in-laws....

Daniel Bridgeworth

ADVENTUREMUFFIN
6th August, 2013 @ 11:38 am PDT

Brian,

That might be for the best. Honestly the overall impact on the planet doesn't justify the pathetic "lives" we "give" to these creatures. Mind you, I'm all in favor of letting the few who have some resemblance of a life worth living continue to do so, and the ones that are used to help with labor in the third world will not go away any time soon, but your argument shows a startling disconnect with reality if you think the world is better off with confined tortured meat bag zombie cows than without.

Shocking? No. There's no scientific breakthrough here. We've known for decades that a vegetable only diet is healthy and complete. We've known for decades that less meat consumption correlates to better health, and recently we've established this to be true even through confounding factors. It's been true for several years that the majority of meat production uses incredible amounts of fossil fuel, (the difference in energy required to produce for a meat eater and a vegan is equivalent to the difference in driving an SUV every day instead of a Prius).

This experiment is interesting, but frankly useless. We don't need to eat meat, and the R&D costs alone for this put it at many dozen times more damaging that just making sensible dietary adjustments and cultural changes. Further, It's quite obvious that a production facility for "synthetic" meat would be just as disease prone as one for cattle (oh, did I mention several thousand people get sick every year, and several dozen die as a result of the meat industry in the US alone? A few minutes on the CDC website and it's pretty clear that guns don't actually cause America's silliest and most preventable deaths).

So, hurray for another misguided money pit.

Phyzzi
6th August, 2013 @ 11:56 am PDT

Re: Phyzzi

This process will only improve with support and wider acceptance.

Is traditional meat production resource intensive and destructive? Yes it is. Is it consumed in excessive quantities? Yes.

But who is to say this process can't be optimized to a point where we can grow meat in plant pods in a garden with sunlight, water and base elements.

After all, complex proteins may not require substantially more resources to grow then any other molecular structure in nature.

Though I do agree with another poster about the need for fat in the meat for flavor. Marbled beef,..mmmm

Besides, we need this process because meat for better or worse IS part of a well rounded human diet. All the veges I've ever known in in my life have been pale skinny sickly looking people (all bar one. She was rather large)

And for the more important reason, we need this technology optimized for space. Growing and breeding cows on the mother ship on our way to wherever may not be viable, especially in shared quarters. 0 G dung much?

Nairda
6th August, 2013 @ 10:03 pm PDT

Nairda,

I don't know about your sample of "veges", or how you consider a few points evidence enough to over rule large scale studies (look up the "china study") but the healthiest people I know are veggies. Sure, some of us are overweight, or too skinny - hello, we're people and we come in the same shapes, sizes, and colors as the rest of you - but we are not, by and large, pale and sickly people subsisting only on juice and tofu. It might be that the people you knew were not so much vegetarians as anorexics using a diet restriction as an excuse to under eat, or they were relatively new vegetarians who had not yet gotten over their meat eating stereotypes that the only plants that people can eat are kale, lettuce, and celery... or, perhaps there is some bias in the way you take data, in that you evaluate someone who claims not to eat meat especially critically. That said, I imagine they will still, on average, outlive the rest of your friends if they stick to their diet - as I said, the evidence in favor of that outcome is pretty overwhelming.

But, okay, let's "humor" your claim that we "need" meat: there's an entire TED talk

explaining that we should change our edible protein production to grasshoppers and locusts, who convert about 9/10 of the nutrients they eat into animal protein, in comparison with the 1/10 or so converted by cows into edible protein (and they don't spread the terrible mammalian and vertebrate diseases caused by our current farming practices). For the cost of this "research" we could probably already have converted most of a nation's chicken farms into grasshopper farms - oh, sure, there's an "ick" factor, but the point is, this isn't about healthy diets, it's about our general unwillingness to adjust habits in even a minor way, even in the face of overwhelming evidence for the harm we are causing, and it's frankly as ridiculous as the people trying to find "science" behind staunch creationism. At the end of the day, the only valid reason to eat meat is that it is a luxury that you are unwilling to give up - if that's the case, then maybe it counts for something to remove animal suffering from the equation, or maybe we're not removing it at all as we continue to destroy our environment in search of energy sources. In the long term, though, I think it's reasonable to hope to see meat go the way of the cigarette.

Ironically, even if they "perfect" this burger, most of the vegetarians and vegans I know wouldn't try it - even if it were free, it's not worth a day on the toilet just to sample some weird lab experiment, and most of us who are healthy, long term plant eaters would get at least that if we went back to eating meat.

Phyzzi
7th August, 2013 @ 07:32 am PDT

This is the best thing that ever will happen to animal kingdom on planet earth. One of the best use of technology from mankind.

Vasanth Kumar
7th August, 2013 @ 10:19 am PDT

I think they need to exercise their tissue culture.

re; ADVENTUREMUFFIN

The problem is that wheat gluten is toxic to about 30% of the population.

re; Phyzzi

You call getting sick from eating uncontaminated food healthy?

And it is impossible for humans to get all their nutritional needs met from a meat free diet.

Slowburn
7th August, 2013 @ 09:00 pm PDT
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