In theory, being able to make artificial meat in a lab sounds great—it'd be better for the earth than raising animals and would make protein more plentiful for a hungry population. But then there's the actual reality of it, which at the moment is sitting in a petri dish in the Netherlands and is described as a "yellow-pink sliver the size of a corn plaster." Terrific, because who doesn't love eating meat that looks like a used band-aid?
As disgusting as it sounds, it's close to becoming a viable option. Dr. Mark Post, head of physiology at Maastricht University, is making the beef in the lab from stem cells and plans to debut an actual hamburger this October. It will have cost more than $300,000 to produce, so it probably won't be on offer at your local McDonald's anytime soon—unless, of course, they launch a new Hundred Thousand Dollar Value Meal™ menu to appeal to the one percenters. Dr. Post's research has been funded by an anonymous wealthy donor (mysterious!) who hopes to reduce cattle farming, which is a big contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. Post says the burger will show that "with in-vitro methods, out of stem cells we can make a product that looks like and feels and hopefully tastes like meat." Hopefully being the operative word. He and his team make the muscle using cow stem cells and a substance called "fetal calf serum," which sounds like something you don't want near your mouth. (Though in truth it's probably no more disgusting than half the shit that touches a cow at a factory farm or slaughterhouse.) The muscle is then grown between pieces of Velcro and flexed routinely. They also shock it with an electric current to make more protein in the cells, which improves the texture. Not quite as charming as the idea of a cow roaming happily over grass-covered hills, but it'll do in a pinch.
So far they've only grown small, thin sheets of cow muscle. To make that all into a burger, they'll need 3,000 pieces of muscle, plus a few hundred pieces of fatty tissue. They're going to mix it all together and then put it in a patty, and voila! A hamburger made without ever growing a living cow. Assuming it doesn't taste absolutely vile, could this become a legitimate meat alternative? Post thinks so—and there are others working on similar efforts elsewhere. He doesn't even anticipate it being that difficult to scale up operations. So soon we could all be clamoring for Petri Meat instead of the grass-fed organic stuff that's selling for top dollar now. Mmm, Petri Meat…
Image via Andrjuss and Eugene Sim/Shutterstock.