Test tube beef made its way into the mouths of a few lucky testers in London today. (The photo above is the actual image of the test tube burger.)

David Parry / PA Wire
David Parry / PA Wire

The lab-grown hamburger was engineered at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands over the past two years. The project, funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, cost $330,000 to produce the single five-ounce burger and the tissue samples for testing prior to its debut. Brin has invested in other futuristic technologies, including exploration of mining asteroids and a company called Space Adventures, which sells $100M trips to the moon.

To develop the in-vitro burger, muscle stem cells were extracted from the shoulder of a living cow and grown in a serum. As the muscle tissue developed, it was stimulated to exercise in order to prevent flabbiness. About 20,000 strands of muscle tissue were produced to create the burger. According to the project’s website, there is no genetic modification involved so it is not a GMO.

Dr. Mark Post, who headed the research, said the costs could eventually be reduced by scaling up production and streamlining techniques, but won’t be commercially viable for at least 10 years. Brin said he is “optimistic that we can really scale by leaps and bounds.” Post said it is important to make the technology work because 70 percent of all agricultural land is devoted to meat production, and appetites for meat are on the rise, globally.

With current production methods, other cultured meats, including chicken, could be grown in the same way, but the texture is limited to a minced variety due to limitations in growing dense tissue.

Post said the advantages to lab-grown beef are extensive, and include humane meat consumption, as no animals are slaughtered. Post said another benefit is the reduction of environmental damage from large-scale factory farm operations. Traditional cattle production requires large amounts of land and water, and creates agricultural waste runoff that is at least partially responsible for “dead zones” in bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, as well as e. coli bacteria water pollution responsible for shutting down beaches. Growing meat in laboratories would theoretically reduce these problems and cost less in labor, feed, water, and other expenses. It could also significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

After sampling it Monday morning, the lucky few volunteers who were able to taste the $330,000 cloned hamburger have had their say on how it tastes.

Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based journalist and author about the future of food production, said, “the bite feels like a conventional hamburger” but described the flavor as “an animal protein cake” and was less juicy due to the lack of fat. The technology hasn’t yet been developed to grow fat cells alongside the cultured muscle tissue.

The tasting event was made available through a live stream online, and the burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown. He noted the color was not as dark as typical beef. He seasoned the burger patty with salt, bread crumbs, egg, and some beet juice and saffron for color, then fried it in a generous amount of butter.

Some animal rights groups support the development of cloned meat. Ingrid Newkirk, president and cofounder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) said the group is in favor of the method. “As long as there’s anybody who’s willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this.”

Would you consider eating this kind of meat?

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