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This burger brought to you by a test tube

Stephen Beard May 21, 2013
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A revolutionary, new beef burger will soon be unveiled in London — and then eaten. What is different about this burger is that it was grown in a laboratory at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

This is not a meat substitute like soy, it is the real thing. The research team behind it says it will not only satisfy the rapidly growing appetite for meat, save the environment and combat climate change, but it will also prove far more efficient than traditional livestock farming.

“Cows and pigs are very inefficient animals ” says Mark Post, professor of vascular physiology at Maastricht University. “For every 15 grams of meat you need to feed them with 100 grams of vegetable proteins so it’s a very, very low efficiency rate.”

With global meat consumption set to double within the next 40 years, Post says he believes that current methods of meat production will not keep up with demand.

In his laboratory he’s come up with the answer. He’s created what’s thought to be the world’s first test tube burger : five ounces of pink “material” grown in an incubator from cells taken from a cow’s neck.

“It’s exactly the same as meat,” says Post. “Coming from the same cells, they have produced the same proteins. It tastes like meat. The only difference is that it’s not grown within the animal, but outside. “

The technology could hugely reduce the amount of land, energy and water required by traditional livestock farming. Not to mention averting the problem of animal flatulence contributing to global warming.

Animal welfare protesters might also have less to shout about since there would be fewer living animals being reared for slaughter.

But as the Maastricht experimenters acknowledge, these are still early days for test tube meat. It took eight weeks and cost $325,000 to grow one five-ounce burger. Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales, says large-scale, low-cost meat manufacturing by this method could be a long way off, to say the least.

“It simply may never be possible to produce the quantities that are envisioned,” he says. “To do that on a large scale is a long way from where we are today, a long way from where bio-medical tissue engineering is today.”

The product could also face stiff consumer resistance, especially in Europe where genetically modified crops have been widely banned and boycotted.

At Maastricht, Post concedes he faces an uphill task, but he believes he has a made breakthrough nevertheless, showing that test-tube meat is a reality.

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