Test tube hamburgers just one year away

The World’s first lab-grown hamburger is only a year away, according to Dutch scientist Mark Post, who is leading a research team towards developing beef grown from cattle stem cells.

Scientists extract stem cells from cattle’s muscle tissue and then leave them to multiply in a laboratory, which produces new muscle fibres similar to beef. Post said that one stem cell can multiply into millions. However the process takes about two to three weeks, which is currently not time or cost-efficient if burgers were being developed on a large-scale.

Post, a professor of vascular physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, estimated the cost of that first hamburger would work out to be about EUR250,000. He said that once the test-tube beef is ready for consumption, more work will have to be done to figure out how to scale up production to a plant-type system, where large volumes of meat could be produced quickly and efficiently.

Post said: “Creating these burgers is very labour-intensive and costly at the moment – it’s not exactly an efficient process yet.”

However, he said that it was important to work on a replacement of meat, because of the environmental and animal welfare issues that come with intense livestock keeping.

“If we continue with current production the way it is, meat will become a scarce item – we’re already using 70% of our agricultural land to produce meat.”

He added that with the increasing cost of grains – which are used to feed livestock - the current price of meat will skyrocket in the coming decades. With this, current production methods will eventually become unsustainable, as the World Health Organisation predicts meat consumption will double by 2050.

Scientists have been growing skeletal muscle tissue in labs for years for medical and pharmaceutical purposes, but no one has ever grown muscle tissue with the purpose of making meat for food before.

And while some people may be sceptical of beef coming from a petri dish, Post said that he is convinced that consumers will eventually be swayed “if it looks, tastes and feels just like the real thing”.