This is part of a 30-part series called “Game Changers.” This special series investigates the most remarkable advancements in science, energy and health — and how they will impact the way we live. This series is brought to you by Samsung’s Galaxy S3.
Dutch scientist Mark Post is cooking up something extraordinary in his lab: A hamburger.
It’s called The Cultured Beef Project and it’s happening at Maastrict University.
Still in development, Post hopes to have grown enough beef to make a hamburger by October.
And Post isn’t pursuing this project because he’s a mad scientist. His ultimate goal is to develop a sustainable source of food that will meet the ever growing demand for meat without destroying and depleting the limited resources on Earth.
From NASA To Your Grocery Store
This isn’t a new idea. Years ago, NASA began experimenting with lab-grown meat so that astronauts might eventually have a new source of food for long space voyages.
In 2008, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced a $1 million reward for the first person to develop a commercially viable lab-grown meat.
Scientists all over the world are working on ways to earn that prize.
However, Mark Post has certainly stolen all of the attention when he announced he would have cultured enough beef to make a whole hamburger.
Furthermore, the ambitious Dr. Post estimates we may see lab-grown beef in grocery stores within many of our lifetimes.
“Cultured Beef production has a long way to go and will not be on the market for some time as the technique still needs to be refined and altered to allow for mass production,” Post wrote in a press release. “We predict that this will be in the next 20 years.
The Process Starts With Stem Cells
First, muscle stem cells are harvested from the cow through a biopsy.
From there, it’s raised like any other living creature. Scientists feed it a steady diet of sugars, fats, amino acids, and minerals.
A 1″ strand of cultured beef
The one inch strand of muscle is also exercised.
According to the scientist, the muscle is stretched between two anchor points. “Its innate tendency to contract causes it to put on bulk, growing into small chunks of meat,” they write. “Three thousand of these small chunks of meat are then fused together to create one normal-sized hamburger.
As seen in the image at right, the muscle is a grayish white color due to lack of blood cells.
However, the scientist plans to employ already accepted food technology methods to improve its appearance, taste and texture to make it a bit more appetizing.
Why We Need This To Work
Commercially viable lab-grown meat isn’t just some crazy science project that would earn some mad scientist glory and immortality.
It’s about addressing two very realistic problems that the world faces: a food crisis and climate change.
The World Health Organization estimates that the global meat production will surge by 72 percent from 199 to 2030, a gargantuan target.
However, we are running out of land and resources.
“Right now we are using more than 50 percent of all our agricultural land for livestock,” said Post.
“For every 15 grams of edible meat, you need to feed the animals around 100 grams of vegetable protein, an increasingly unsustainable equation,” reports Reuters’ Kate Kelland.
And even if we were to secure the land and resources for all of those animals, the strain on the environment would be enormous. Already, methane gas emitted by livestock has already been tied to contributing to global climate change.
“It’s simple maths. We have to come up with alternatives,” said Post.
According to Felix Allen of The Sun, “Test tube meat would slash the number of cattle slaughter – with each animal theoretically producing 100 million burgers.”
Just how desperate is the food situation?