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August 13, 2013

lab burgerNope, it’s not a low-budget sci-fi thriller. It’s a scientific advancement that has some calling it the solution to world hunger and others a slap in the face to Mother Nature. Vascular biologist Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands has created the first lab-grown hamburger patty, which underwent taste-testing this week. This was the result of a five-year research project which was just revealed to be funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin at a cost of $300,000 (£220,000).

The burger was created from the stem cells of a dead cow, which were fed nutrients and growth-promoting chemicals to develop tissue. Weeks later, millions of cells developed, which were placed into dishes where they turn into small strips of muscle. These were collected into small pellets, frozen, and formed into a patty prior to cooking. The “meat” comes out white; a natural compound to dye the meat red is added.

Prof Post with petrie dishes where the stem cells are grown

Prof Post with petrie dishes where the stem cells are grown

Post says that the basis of his research is to find a solution for growing global food security and environmental issues. Professor Tara Garnett, who heads up the Food Policy Research Network at Oxford University states, “That’s weird and unacceptable. The solutions don’t just lie with producing more food but changing the systems of supply and access and affordability, so not just more food but better food gets to people who need it.” Although some may oppose his method, Post totes, “I think it will take a while. This is just to show we can do it.”

The potential environmental benefits are worth noting. Hanna Tuomisto of the European Commission Joint Research Centre, who researches environmental impacts of lab-grown meat, discovered they would use 35-60% less energy to grow, emit 80-95% less greenhouse gas, and use 98% less land than beef cattle. These numbers only grow when considering the vastly increasing demand for beef by 2050, according both to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization & World Health Organization.

However, Monday’s taste test revealed there is still a ways to go in marketing this burger to the public, bringing down the cost, and improving texture. Testers agreed it tastes “almost” like a burger. It is missing the fat that we’re used to which increases moisture and flavor. Footage from the tasting can be found below (courtesy of BBC News UK).

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