The Debut of the Stem Cell-Derived Hamburger


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)
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 dollars 332,000) to produce. (AP Photo / David Parry, PA)

This might seem like an odd use of stem cells, but this could potentially feed people without the need of large herds of cows. Our food in the future could use a pinch of seasoning, and maybe some cheese. Laboratory grown stem cells have been used to generate bovine muscle that, when ground, looks like real beef.

Two volunteers took the first public bites of hamburger that was grown in a laboratory. While they thought that had excellent texture, there was much to be desired when it came to its taste.

“I miss the salt and pepper,” said Austrian nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler. U.S. journalist Josh Schonwald confessed that he had difficulty judging a burger “without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon.” Both tasters ate the burger without a hamburger bun or lettuce and sliced tomatoes even those these were offered to them. Both tasters really wanted to concentrate their gustatory sensations on the meat itself.

Mark Post, the Dutch scientist who led the team that grew the meat from cattle stem cells deeply regretted having served the patty without aged gouda cheese: his favorite topping.
“That would have enhanced the whole experience tremendously,” he told The Associated Press. He said he was pleased with the reviews: “It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start.”

Post is a professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and he and his research team developed the burger over five years. Post hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help feed the world and fight climate change even though this goal is certainly a decade or two away.

“The first (lab-made) meat products are going to be very exclusive,” said Isha Datar, director of New Harvest, an international nonprofit that promotes meat alternatives. “These burgers won’t be in Happy Meals before someone rich and famous is eating them.”

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, announced that he funded the 250,000-euro ($330,000) project, saying he was motivated by a concern for animal welfare. “We’re trying to create the first cultured beef hamburger,” he said in a videotaped message. “From there, I’m optimistic we can really scale up by leaps and bounds.”

Scientists largely agree that improving the flavor probably won’t be difficult. “Taste is the least (important) problem since this could be controlled by letting some of the stem cells develop into fat cells,” said Stig Omholt, director of biotechnology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

According to Omholt, adding fat to the burgers this way would probably be healthier than getting it from naturally fat cows. He called Monday’s tasting a publicity stunt, but he was not speaking detrimentally about it. Instead, Omholt said that it was a smart way to draw public attention, and possibly investor funds, to research efforts to develop lab-grown meat.

Post’s research team made their meat from shoulder muscle cells of two organically raised cows. These cells were put into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue, and they grew into small strands of meat. Post and his colleagues had to grow some 20,000 strands of muscle tissue to make a single 140-gram (5-ounce) patty. Post said the lab-made patty had a yellowish tinge.

“I’m a vegetarian, but I would be first in line to try this,” said Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn’t involved in the burger research.

Experts say new ways of producing meat are needed to satisfy growing carnivorous appetites without exhausting resources. By 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts global meat consumption will double as more people in developing countries are able to afford it. Raising animals destined for the dinner table takes up about 70 percent of all agricultural land. Interestingly, the animal rights group PETA has thrown its support behind the lab-meat initiative.

“As long as there’s anybody who’s willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this,” said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s president and co-founder. “Instead of the millions and billions (of animals) being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops,” she said.

If the product is ever ready for market, national food authorities will likely require extensive data that proves that the lab meat is safe. Unfortunately, when it comes to lab-grown meat, there is no precedent. Some experts said officials might regulate the process used to make such meat, similar to how they monitor beer and wine production.

Only one patty was cooked Monday, and the testers each took less than half of it. Post said he would take the leftovers home so his kids can have a taste.