Q&A on the science of growing hamburger in the lab

Aug 05, 2013 by Maria Cheng
A new Cultured Beef Burger made from cultured beef grown in a laboratory from stem cells of cattle, is held by the man who developed the burger, Professor Mark Post of Netherland's Maastricht University, during a the world's first public tasting event for the food product in London, Monday Aug. 5, 2013. The Cultured Beef could help solve the coming food crisis and combat climate change according to the producers of the burger which cost some 250,000 euros (US dlrs 332,000) to produce. (AP Photo / David Parry, PA)

(AP)—At a public tasting in London Monday, Dutch scientists served hamburgers made from cow stem cells. Some questions and answers about the science behind the revolutionary patty.

Q: What are stem cells?

A: Stem cells are an organism's master cells and can be turned into any other cell type in the body, i.e. blood, tissue, muscle, etc.

Q: Why is the meat so expensive to produce?

A: The technology is new and scientists are making very small quantities of meat. There are no economies of scale to offset the initial high costs. If more scientists or companies start using the technology to produce more meat products, that could drop the price substantially.

Q: When could this meat be in stores?

A: Probably not for another 10 to 20 years. It would take years to refine the technology, encourage other producers and scientists to get involved, and overcome any regulatory issues.

Q: Who paid for the research?

A: Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, underwrote the 250,000-euro ($330,000) project, which began in 2006.

Q: How is this better for the environment?

A: It could reduce the number of animals needed for the meat industry. Raising cows, pigs, chickens, etc. contributes substantially to climate change through the production of methane gas. Growing meat in the laboratory could reduce the impact on agricultural land, water and resources.

Q: How long does it take to grow a burger?

A: At the moment, a long time. It has taken two years for scientists to grow enough meat for two hamburgers. The research into the process started in 2006. Once there are enough strands of meat (about 20,000 small strands), scientists can form a five-ounce (140-gram) hamburger patty in about two hours.

Q: What are the implications for vegetarians?

A: PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, supports attempts to grow meat in labs because they say that will greatly diminish the amount of animal suffering. Donor animals are needed for the muscle cells, but taking those samples doesn't hurt the animal. One sample can theoretically provide up to 20,000 tons of lab-made meat. But lab-grown meat is still meat, and not an option for vegetarians.

Q: Is it possible to make other kinds of meat in the laboratory?

A: Yes. The science is theoretically the same, so the same techniques should also allow researchers to make chicken, fish, lamb, etc. Dutch researcher Mark Post, who led the research on the lab-made hamburger, started working with pig cells. He had intended to make a sausage, but his American funder suggested a hamburger instead.

Q: Can they make other meat products?

A: At the moment, scientists are only working on making processed or minced meat, because that is the easiest kind to replicate. Processed meat accounts for about half of the meat market. Post said it should be possible to make more complicated cuts like steaks or chops in the future, but that involves using more advanced tissue engineering techniques. He estimates that it might be possible to make a steak in about 20 years.

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User comments : 25

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Aug 05, 2013
I'd try it.
Would prefer if they didn't have to add so many other non-meat ingredients to make it look/taste right, as this only opens the door for "I can't believe it's not meat"-type of low quality products (with an actual meat content that is in the homeopathic range).

But I realize this is a first try - and as first tries go a rather good one.
Ophelia
5 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
The team in the Netherlands took cells from organic cows ... .


I'm glad they aren't trying this with the inorganic cows.

Who writes this stuff?
BSD
1.3 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2013
I'm glad they aren't trying this with the inorganic cows.


I remember reading an article in the 1980s suggesting lab grown cows born without a nervous system and artificially kept alive. All you had to do was cut off the amount you want off this blob of beef and the piece you cut off would grow back again. It couldn't feel anything because of it's lack of nervous system.

I must say, I didn't think there was anything else but organic cows either.

I can only surmise that the article meant that the beast the cells were taken from was fed chemical free feed. Badly worded though.
BrainGuy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2013
I'm glad they aren't trying this with the inorganic cows.


I remember reading an article in the 1980s suggesting lab grown cows born without a nervous system and artificially kept alive. All you had to do was cut off the amount you want off this blob of beef and the piece you cut off would grow back again. It couldn't feel anything because of it's lack of nervous system.

I must say, I didn't think there was anything else but organic cows either.

I can only surmise that the article meant that the beast the cells were taken from was fed chemical free feed. Badly worded though.


I think you are right. That is probably what they meant to say. However, I am pretty sure there are no cows in existence that aren't comprised of carbon compounds. Hence, they are still 'organic'.
praos
1 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2013
This meat is, BTW, not kosher, being taken from living animal.
nowhere
5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2013
This meat is, BTW, not kosher, being taken from living animal.

Just have your rabbi / priest preform the slaughter ritual and then take a sample of the now kosher meat cells. Think of it, you can grow tons kosher meat with only one inhumane slaughter!
DarkHorse66
3.5 / 5 (4) Aug 06, 2013
My question is more along the lines of: what is its nutritional content vs traditional meat? You do have to wonder about this, especially since they aren't saying just what do 'feed' such an item, to make it grow? Also, there are multiple processes involved in the body, both for creating and ferrying the biochemical nutrients and this starts right with the gut. Since many of these processes would be absent, that is something that HAS to be looked into.
Cheers DH66
Noumenon
1.8 / 5 (25) Aug 06, 2013
Doesn't sound very appetizing. I think the public reaction will be worse than that for the notorious soylent pink slime meat. The first fast food restraunt that makes use of it will go bankrupt, and the first 3rd world poor country that is supplied this crap as "humanitarian aide" will protest that they are being treated and fed like domesticated pigs.

There is nothing wrong with raising cattle to consume. This tech is pointless and idiotic. There, I said it.
nowhere
5 / 5 (4) Aug 06, 2013
Doesn't sound very appetizing.

I'm sure once they include some fat content it'll taste as good as generic meat.

The first fast food restraunt that makes use of it will go bankrupt, and the first 3rd world poor country that is supplied this crap as "humanitarian aide" will protest that they are being treated and fed like domesticated pigs.

I doubt that. This isn't pink slime we're talking about, it isnt left over scraps, but rather meat grown from cell which are presumably taken from the best cuts of the animal.

There is nothing wrong with raising cattle to consume.

Depends on where an individual draws their moral line. Vegetarians would say you lack morals, you would say dog eaters lack morals, dog eaters would say cannibals lack morals. At least the cannibals aren't hippocrits. Them and maybe the vegans.
This tech is pointless and idiotic. There, I said it.

I assume you are not at all interested in sustainability or human space exploration.
Jaeherys
5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2013
@DarkHorse66

The cells are grown in growth media that contains all the nutrients required for growth, without which, the cells would not grow or would grow very poorly. I'm not an expert on the nutritional content of muscle but if all the same cells types are there, the nutritional content should be very similar. One major benefit of cells grown in the lab is the lack of heavy metal contamination or build up of toxins that are found all around us, e.g. estrogen.

Here is a list of chemicals found in a very common growth media: http://www.sigmaa...7pis.pdf

Growth media is also supplimented with sera proteins obtained primarily from calfs. The sera proteins are important for proper proliferation of the cells and to make sure they remain "happy" and do not feel the need to commit suicide! Here's a list of some typical components of FBS: http://onlinelibr...21o/full
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2013
@Jaeherys: That is a pretty comprehensive list! Quite impressive. Many nutrients for building blocks for neurotransmitters (note for others who are not familiar with this, the majority of neurotransmitters aren't actually produced in the brain, eg about 80-90% of serotonin is produced in the body, not the brain. It had a different function in the rest of the body & does not cross the blood-brain barrier) & muscle building.Even many vitamins are there. I saw the many forms of the vit-B that were listed, but I couldn't find any mention of methylcobalamin or any of the four other variations ending in cobalamine(wasn't really looking hard for cyanocobalamine, since that is a totally artifical version & converts rather badly to an active form; found that out the hard way) I have just one question; Apart from mushrooms (as far as I know) B12 is only to be found in meat. I'm just not quite sure how it gets there under normal conditions. Are you able to clarify that one?
Best Regards, DH66
Jean Demesure
1 / 5 (8) Aug 06, 2013
Growing meat in the laboratory could reduce the impact on agricultural land, water and resources

Some burn food to synthetize (heavily) subsidized energy while others burn energy to synthetize food, all in the name of saving the environnement !
Wonder what would be the next ad hoc excuses to justify the lastest enviro fad ?
Jaeherys
5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2013
Apart from mushrooms (as far as I know) B12 is only to be found in meat. I'm just not quite sure how it gets there under normal conditions.

That is a good question! As you may know, B-12 is important for nucleotide synthesis and cellular respiration (amongst other things), so the lack of it in our growth media was somewhat surprising. Cobalamin (Cbl) is primarily produced by flora bacteria in humans and through a complex system of transporters ends up in our cells. Why meat has a high concentration I can only speculate but perhaps it has to do with the high levels of cellular respiration and repair.

Cobalamin is found in blood sera bound to haptocorrin. Haptocorrin helps protect cobalamin from HCl degredation in the stomach. This same protection may help trap the HC-Cbl complex during the separation of blood sera from whole blood. I'm not sure if unbound Cbl would remain in the serum without HC but it may. Con't...
Jaeherys
5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2013
Therefore, the fetal bovine serum we use to suppliment our growth media with further required constituents most likely contains the trace amounts of cobalamin necessary for cell proliferation. This may also mean lab grown muscle may have lower levels of cobalamin than typical muscle if my above speculation is correct. But to figure that out, you'd really need to dig through some publications and find that out for sure. Luckily, because the intestinal flora and other microbes produces cobalamin, it may not be a problem if we were to switch over to lab grown meat entirely. Also some food for thought, liver appears to be what we use most often to extract cobalamin from over muscle, whether that's because of higher concentrations or greater ease of extraction I am not sure.

http://www.jbc.or...271.long
Gmr
3.2 / 5 (11) Aug 06, 2013

There is nothing wrong with raising cattle to consume. This tech is pointless and idiotic. There, I said it.


You are more than entitled to your opinion regarding potential public reaction. But to say it is pointless is a bit beyond the pale. Disagree with some philosophical proponents, fine. This technology represents potential large scale tissue culture, which could be used to grow replacement muscle and organs for humans, or could be used to "raise" meat in such barren pasturelands as the space station, a Mars mission, or a moon base.

I'm looking forward to a future with this technology.
open_knows_nothing
1.9 / 5 (9) Aug 06, 2013
.
Noumenon
1.5 / 5 (24) Aug 06, 2013
There is nothing wrong with raising cattle to consume.


Depends on where an individual draws their moral line. Vegetarians would say you lack morals....


I would wager most vegetarians and PETA members actively support abortion. I don't think raising animals for food has a ratz ass to do with morals, but then i'm not an 11 year girl.
Noumenon
1.5 / 5 (25) Aug 06, 2013
The first fast food restraunt that makes use of it will go bankrupt, and the first 3rd world poor country that is supplied this crap as "humanitarian aide" will protest that they are being treated and fed like domesticated pigs. - Noumenon


I doubt that. This isn't pink slime we're talking about, it isnt left over scraps, but rather meat grown from cell which are presumably taken from the best cuts of the animal. - nowhere


It's still meat grown in a lab. The public will not voluntarily choose this when proper natural cow is available so readily. There will be zero commercial interest in this for human consumption.
Noumenon
1.5 / 5 (24) Aug 06, 2013

There is nothing wrong with raising cattle to consume. This tech is pointless and idiotic. There, I said it.


You are more than entitled to your opinion regarding potential public reaction. But to say it is pointless is a bit beyond the pale. Disagree with some philosophical proponents, fine. This technology represents potential large scale tissue culture, which could be used to grow replacement muscle and organs for humans, or could be used to "raise" meat in such barren pasturelands as the space station, a Mars mission, or a moon base.

I'm looking forward to a future with this technology.


Good points, but I don't think there would be a market for it for regular consumption.
Gmr
2.8 / 5 (9) Aug 06, 2013

Good points, but I don't think there would be a market for it for regular consumption.


I think it would depend on spin and marketing and eventual improvement in technology and cost. Right now, it would be a rich person only food, so it might have some upscale/early adopter kitsch. Beyond that, you'd be fighting a whole industry dedicated to protecting its market share and a bifurcated movement caught between the evils of artificial food and the evils of animal cruelty and environmental destruction.
nowhere
5 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2013
There is nothing wrong with raising cattle to consume.


Depends on where an individual draws their moral line. Vegetarians would say you lack morals....


I would wager most vegetarians and PETA members actively support abortion.

Assertion that's off topic. Unless your point is to show that morality is relative to the individual...which was my point to you.

I don't think raising animals for food has a ratz ass to do with morals, but then i'm not an 11 year girl.

But don't little girls think abortion is evil?
nowhere
5 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2013
I doubt that. This isn't pink slime we're talking about, it isnt left over scraps, but rather meat grown from cell which are presumably taken from the best cuts of the animal. - nowhere


It's still meat grown in a lab. The public will not voluntarily choose this when proper natural cow is available so readily. There will be zero commercial interest in this for human consumption.

Vegetarians will eat it, animal rights groups will champion it, poor people will afford it, space explores will require it. When steaks can be grown, all AAA grade, and at half the price of your B grade cow will you still be so reluctant to eat it?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) Aug 07, 2013
The public wil not voluntarily choose this
Sure they will. Well maybe not the old farts but the younger gens will eat up a well-conceived ad campaign showing suffering cattle and dirty stockyards and abbatoires. It will be as easy as selling bottled water. PETA and the media will help for free.

And like nowhere says, growing meat in vats has to be much cheaper than on the hoof. Growth, process, package and ship under one roof.
adam_russell_9615
1 / 5 (2) Aug 10, 2013
A hamburger is not just muscle and fat. You also need the blood for proper flavor. Sorry if that made anyone feint.

Also the article mentions the benefit to the environment of not raising livestock, but neglects to mention if this new process has any kind of chemicals that would be of concern. I know people would like to imagine that beef just grows magically from a bare petri dish but I doubt it is that simple.
Gmr
1 / 5 (5) Aug 10, 2013
A hamburger is not just muscle and fat. You also need the blood for proper flavor. Sorry if that made anyone feint.

Not sure if you mean the myoglobin in red muscle - but if you've slaughtered correctly, most of the blood should have gone elsewhere, to be harvested for waterproof glues or blotwurst.

Also the article mentions the benefit to the environment of not raising livestock, but neglects to mention if this new process has any kind of chemicals that would be of concern. I know people would like to imagine that beef just grows magically from a bare petri dish but I doubt it is that simple.

Yes, industrial scale production will require chemicals, but considering you'll have to replace the waste system and oxygenation system of the bovine with artificial means, you can at least keep them a little cleaner and freer of parasites acquired in the field.