Cultured Beef: Here Comes the Double Double Laboratory Style

“How now, brown cow”.

No, not that kind of cultured beef! Researchers in the Netherlands have created a 5-ounce hamburger from beef muscle tissue grown (or cultured) in the laboratory. The proof-of-concept in vitro burger is to be unveiled, cooked, and eaten in an upcoming event in London.

Dr. Mark Post, of Maastricht University, took myosatellite cells – normally used by the body to repair injured muscle tissue – from a cow’s neck and grew them in plastic culture dishes. Myosatellite cells are adult stem cells. In this case, they were induced by specific nutrient conditions to transform into muscle cells that grew into small strips of tissue, looking like “a short pink rice noodle”. Many of these muscle strips were then combined to make the in vitro burger.

The implications of this tissue research are numerous. Such technology could reduce the burden on livestock and the feed and water required to maintain large herds of cattle. Also, only the parts required for meat would need to be produced. There would be the possibility of producing adequate amounts of food for an ever-expanding population. Oh yeah, and animal welfare advocates and global warming evangelists would undoubtedly rejoice.

But never fear – beef cattle would not become obsolete, because cells from the animals would still be required for initiating cultured products. And at the moment, creating more complex (and tasty) beef cuts, such as steak, is a long way off. Technologies, like 3-D bioprinting, may help to create thicker tissues. Researchers must figure out how to create networks for blood vessels to deliver nutrients and to culture fat in order to create more biologically complicated in vitro meats like steaks.

In addition to these hurdles, there is the immediate need for funds to continue and expand such tissue research. And of course, regulatory agencies like the FDA will step in to determine the safety and nutritional value of the cultured meat. Finally, companies wanting to get into the in vitro burger business must figure out how to develop and produce cultured meats inexpensively. Because, right now, that 5 ounce In Vitro Burger costs about $325,000.

So what do you think? Would you eat a cultured hamburger or steak?