Holy cow! Beef without cows?
October 23, 2018 Luke Cridland By Luke Cridland And Meghan Horvath By Meghan Horvath

Holy cow! Beef without cows?

Did you know that scientists have found a way to grow meat in a lab? It may sound crazy, but scientists are currently devising ways of growing our beef cow-less.

The reason? I love a good burger, but tasty meat can in fact come with a heavy price. Alongside the obvious cruelty that can come with some farming conditions,1 the over farming of cows produces a large quantity of greenhouse gases, with some predictions indicating it will one day over take the oil industry.2

With this in mind, it’s not too crazy that technology has gone down this creative, quirky path. And when you think about it, some of the world’s greatest discoveries took place within thin, transparent, 15-millimetre walls. The cause of tuberculosis, cholera and many novel scientific advances were all realised in a shallow, cylindrical plate that we know as the petri dish.3

Though ordinarily used to culture cells, the petri dish is indeed now responsible for something just as ground-breaking and this time, for our food system.

How It’s Made

For years, doctors have been repairing organs by dividing and forming new muscle tissues.4 Now imagine taking the same technology to create a hamburger.5 It sounds crazy, but cultured meat has already been tried and tested, passing the lips of food critics as far back as 2013.

Using 10,000 individual strips of muscle fibre, the result is a recognisable burger patty, just made in a somewhat non-traditional way.6 It sounds tricky to say the least, and at first, the price matched that intricacy. Originally these burgers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece to produce, but now production is angling for such burgers to be restaurant-ready by the end of 2018.7,8

However, the question on everyone’s lips is could this lab-grown meat wonder ever taste like its original counterpart? Science and early tasters point towards yes. In the end, these burgers taste like meat because they are meat.9

The Three Processes

There are a few ways of creating these innovative alternative hamburgers, but only one involves extracting animal stem cells to then be grown in a lab. The process is called cellular agriculture as cells are taken via a muscle-biopsy procedure from a living animal.10

Another process known as acellular agriculture is even less invasive. This takes the DNA from meat and then uses yeast and a stimulus to create similar types of protein.11 At the end of the processes, you’re left with a hamburger.

An even crazier way of replicating meat is through only using the molecule that gives beef its unmistakable flavour—heme. The compound is found in animal’s blood as a subunit of the protein haemoglobin, and it is what gives us the juiciness of a cooked burger and the bloody flavour of raw meat. However, heme can be found in other organisms such as plants too.12

Therefore, with heme, you can have a burger that’s entirely plant-based yet represents its carnivorous version in appearance and even taste. As a result, what’s most impressive is that the heme for these burgers doesn’t even need to be taken from animals. Plants, such as the soy plant, in fact have small amounts of heme in their roots, which when extracted, can be used for mass production using yeast.13

 

 

Thoughts?

Synthetic meat manufacturers and innovative restaurants are already incorporating clean meat on menus and soon lab-grown burgers may even be stocking our fridge shelves at home. And the movement hasn’t stopped at meat. Lab-grown fish, grown from the cells of marine-animals, has also taken huge strides in the past couple of years, aiming to hit the market by 2019.14

Would you try either product? Let us know in the comments below!

References

  1. Newkey-Burden, C. (2017). Dairy is scary. The public are waking up to the darkest part of farming. The Guardian. Accessed 18th October 2018.
  2. Yirka, B. (2018). Study suggests meat and dairy industry on track to surpass oil companies as biggest greenhouse gas emitters. Phys.org. Accessed 18th October 2018.
  3. Lippi, D. & Gotuzzo, E. (2014). The greatest steps towards the discovery of Vibrio cholerae. Clin Microbiol Infect. Accessed 19th July 2018.
  4. Donaldson, L. (2018). Polymeric material could repair traumatized human organs and tissue. Materials Today. Accessed 18th October 2018.
  5. Hawks, C. (2018). How close are we to a hamburger grown in a lab? CNN. 19th July 2018.
  6. Hultin, G. (2017). Lab-grown meat: Exploring potential benefits and challenges of cellular agriculture. Food & Nutrition. Accessed 19th July 2018.
  7. Shoemaker, N. (2017). Price of lab-grown burger falls from $325K to $11.36. Big Think. Accessed 19th July 2018.
  8. Peters, A. (2018). Lab-grown meat is getting cheap enough for anyone to buy. Fast Company. Accessed 19th July 2018.
  9. Shapiro, P. (2018). Lab-made meat could be the next food revolution: here's what it tastes like. The Guardian. Accessed 18th October 2018.
  10. Lamb, C. (2018). CAS wants you (and everyone else) to know about cellular agriculture. The Spoon. Accessed 19th July 2018.
  11. King, B. J. (2018). Clean meat, via lab, is on the way. NPR. Accessed 19th July 2018.
  12. Tayag, Y. (2015). The meat lover's guide to heme, the protein that makes everyone crave blood. Inverse. Accessed 18th October 2018.
  13. Aubrey, A. (2017). Saving the planet, one burger at a time: This juicy patty is meat-free. NPR. Accessed 18th October 2018.
  14. Fleming, A. (2018). Could lab-grown fish and meat feed the world – without killing a single animal? The Guardian. Accessed 29th October 2018.