Science

First public tasting of US$330,000 lab-grown burger

The lab-grown burger was served with the usual trappings for presentation purposes
The lab-grown burger was served with the usual trappings for presentation purposes
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The cultured beef burger took 20,000 individually grown strands of tissue
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The cultured beef burger took 20,000 individually grown strands of tissue
The cultured beef after flavoring and forming
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The cultured beef after flavoring and forming
Mark Post with the cultured beef
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Mark Post with the cultured beef
Professor Post's work is based on that of Dutch scientist Willem van Eelen
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Professor Post's work is based on that of Dutch scientist Willem van Eelen
The cultured beef burger was pan fried
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The cultured beef burger was pan fried
The added ingredients gave the burger a more natural flavor and texture
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The added ingredients gave the burger a more natural flavor and texture
The cultured beef burger being served up
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The cultured beef burger being served up
The burger was prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant
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The burger was prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant
The lab-grown burger was served with the usual trappings for presentation purposes
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The lab-grown burger was served with the usual trappings for presentation purposes
Post with the finished product
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Post with the finished product
Richard McGeown with the burger still in its container
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Richard McGeown with the burger still in its container
Richard McGeow and ITV's Nina Hossain
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Richard McGeow and ITV's Nina Hossain
The purpose of the burger is to find ways to increase meat production without increasing its negative impacts
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The purpose of the burger is to find ways to increase meat production without increasing its negative impacts
Austrian food researcher Hanni Rützler
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Austrian food researcher Hanni Rützler
Josh Schonwald, Chicago-based author of Taste of Tomorrow
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Josh Schonwald, Chicago-based author of Taste of Tomorrow
The cultured beef burger meeting the frying pan
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The cultured beef burger meeting the frying pan
The cultured beef burger was developed at Maastricht University
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The cultured beef burger was developed at Maastricht University
Red beet juice being added to the cultured beef
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Red beet juice being added to the cultured beef
The cultured beef being mixed with additional ingredients
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The cultured beef being mixed with additional ingredients
Comparison of the cultured beef, ground beef, and pre-seasoned beef
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Comparison of the cultured beef, ground beef, and pre-seasoned beef
Post with the cultured beef without additional ingredients
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Post with the cultured beef without additional ingredients
The cultured beef being compared to natural versions for accuracy of apperanace
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The cultured beef being compared to natural versions for accuracy of apperanace
The cultured beef was grown from samples taken from cows
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The cultured beef was grown from samples taken from cows
Representative image of beef cells multiplying
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Representative image of beef cells multiplying
The cultured beef being tasted
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The cultured beef being tasted
The tasting took place at a press conference in London
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The tasting took place at a press conference in London
Digital image showing how the cells were placed in the Petri dish
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Digital image showing how the cells were placed in the Petri dish
Digital image showing a ring of muscle strands
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Digital image showing a ring of muscle strands
Beef cells being processed for culturing
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Beef cells being processed for culturing
Beef cells being filtered
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Beef cells being filtered
Cultured beef cells in Petri dishes
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Cultured beef cells in Petri dishes
Detail of cultured beef cells in Petri dishes
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Detail of cultured beef cells in Petri dishes
Collected beef strands
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Collected beef strands
Strands being collected for storage
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Strands being collected for storage
Mixing the cultured beef and comparison samples
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Mixing the cultured beef and comparison samples
Cultured beef without additional ingredients
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Cultured beef without additional ingredients
Cultured beef about to be mixed with other ingredients
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Cultured beef about to be mixed with other ingredients

If Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University ever opens a burger bar, you might want to take a close look at the prices before you order. On Monday, at a press conference in London, a burger made by Post and his team was served that cost a cool €250,000 (about US$330,000). The reason? The beef that went into making it never saw a pasture and the people in the white coats who handed it to the chef weren't butchers, but bioengineers.

The purpose behind this incredibly expensive beefburger is to find new ways to increase meat production while reducing pressure on the environment and increasing animal welfare. According to the United Nations, there will be some nine billion people on Earth by the middle of this century. Globally, people are becoming more wealthy with a correspondingly greater appetite for meat and it’s projected that there will be a 130 percent increase in demand in East Asia and Pacific regions alone. If meat could be cultured and produced by industrial methods, it might reduce the environmental impact by reducing the amount of land being turned over to livestock.

“What we are trying today is important because I hope it will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces,” says Post. “Our burger is made from muscle cells taken from a cow. We haven’t altered them in any way. For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing.”

The cultured beef burger took 20,000 individually grown strands of tissue
The cultured beef burger took 20,000 individually grown strands of tissue

The event hosted by ITV London’s main anchor, Nina Hossain saw the cultured burger prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant in Polperro, Cornwall. Tasters included Josh Schonwald, Chicago-based author of Taste of Tomorrow, and Austrian food researcher Hanni Rützler. The burger was pan fried and presented on a bun with lettuce and tomato.

"The burger had a very bland, neutral flavor,” says Schonwald. “The thing that made it most similar to real beef was the texture. When I bit into it, I was impressed with the bite and how it had a kind of density that was familiar."

The idea of growing meat in a laboratory goes back to at least the 1920s and Post’s technique is based on the work of Dutch scientist Willem van Eelen, who developed a method of culturing meat based on stem cells. Unfortunately, stem cells only reproduce a finite number of times, so Post modified the technique by using myosatellite cells. These are cells that have already specialized enough to only produce muscle cells and aren't limited in how many times they reproduce.

The burger was prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant
The burger was prepared by Richard McGeown, the chef at Couch's Great House Restaurant

The burger’s journey to the table is about as far from free range as one can imagine. Tissue samples were taken from cows on an organic farm, with the team claiming one sample could create up to 20,000 tons of beef. However, making the first burger was very labor intensive for far less return.

The muscle tissue was separated from the fat tissue and then separated into single cells. These myosatellite cells were then cultivated in a nutrient solution. As they multiplied, the cells naturally merged to form into strands called myotubes about 0.3 mm long, These myotubes were placed in a ring about a hub of gel in a Petri dish where the cells contracted as muscle cells are wont to do, and the tubes closed around the gel plug where they grew. Over time, these were collected until the scientists collected the 20,000 stands needed to make a 140 g (5 oz) burger.

At this point, the “burger” wasn't much to look at. Meat is actually a very complex structure made up of several different tissues, fed by blood and exercised as the animal moves around. The cultured beef was just muscle tissue and lacked the color provided naturally by hemoglobin, the texture provided by the different tissues and the flavors given to natural meat by various trace chemicals. To give it some of this back, the cultured beef, which looks more like flabby suet in its native state, was mixed with salt, egg powder, bread crumbs, red beet juice, caramel, and saffron. The end product looked like pre-seasoned ground beef that was very finely textured without a hint of fat or sinew.

According to Post, it may take ten years before cultured meat becomes a consumer product. Despite Monday’s very expensive dish, he says that even using today’s technology it would be possible to mass produce the cultured meat at around $70 per kilogram (2.2 lb) and that it will easily be possible to do better in the future.

The video below explains the rationale behind cultured beef.

Source: Cultured Beef

Cultured Beef (culturedbeef.net)

17 comments
Nairda
Yes, but will the Vegans eat it? Their only claim was that meat is taken from killing or harming life. :) I'm totally in favor of artificial products like these though. Just have to make sure it is well tested to make sure there are no long term implications from consumption of this.
Soil n Green
I doubt vegans or nutritarians will eat this frankenfood. Organics actually do not wear the soil down it is the heavily laden pesticide and herbicides that tire and kill soil. Eating meat does come with a high price of cattle using too much water. I personally think food in its natural form is the way it should be. Stop fixing what's not broken! I noticed no one mentioned what this frankenburger is made from? I'm sure it's right up there with The Japanese Crap burger http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-20072270-71/japanese-scientist-creates-poop-burger-surely-not/ People that work in labs should never be allowed to mess with the food chain. Our bodies can not digest or recognize this synthetic crap and that is why there is so much obesity and Cancer.
Koala
@soil n green "I noticed no one mentioned what this frankenburger is made from? " actually they did: “Our burger is made from muscle cells taken from a cow. We haven’t altered them in any way. For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing.”
myale
Cost wise comparing this to other sources of protein - would of been good to have actually compared this to fly larvae protein burghers etc Would the food situation ever get so bad to the point of the resyk (2000AD - Mega City food factories - recycling corpses into protein) - guess this is always an option - but would need to also look at recycling waste better. Becomming a cannibal and eating faeces doe not sound so appealing, but I guess it is all a source of potential food components.
Dai Jones
Presumably the burger is replicated bovine muscle tissue.....in which case it will have better contents than ANY fast food burger. A recent study concluded that fast food burgers contain between3% and 16% actual meat. After water, the rest of the ingredients don't bear thinking about.
lwesson
This is the future. Car vs Horse? Car wins! The exact replication of tissue for food is only a matter of time. Chicken, duck, beef, pork, buffalo, moose, bear, horse... and variations of flavor. Corn fed. Grass fed... Having worked on my Grandfather's ranch, picking out a cow to kill, was interesting in a disturbing sort of way. Sending Bessy to the slaughter house, well, well how indescribable. Some I guess get a kick out of this. You find them everywhere. I did not. Our grass fed cattle were ahead of the mass corn fed, steroid, medicated beasts, but still. So here, is the control issue. Growing tissue, you can have complete control vs the Mystery Meat that so often is in your grocery store. "Franken Meat" need not be constructed to kill the consumer. Frankly I am more worried by the greed of the meat industry and Mad Cow problems. Very nasty this problem. "I'll take two pounds of Franken Grass Nourished Ground Beef please, oh, and the Missus wants a pound & a half of Franken Smoke Roasted Turkey Breast, thinly sliced."
mados123
@Soil n Green "I noticed no one mentioned what this frankenburger is made from? " - from what the article says, cultured myosatellite cells from the muscle tissue of the cow; I am not sure of the "nutrient solution" they use. Elsewhere, I heard that beet juice, saffron (which is quite expensive I thought), caramel and bread crumbs is added. I don't necessarily think they are using synthetic crap but rather redefining the idea of 'making dinner.' I personally would choose to occasional have the real thing.
Micah Houchin
Seeing as there is a plethora of problems with our currently existing "engineered" food, in comparison with natural, organic food. Also, I've seen Eureka.. I have a natural hesitation about such meats. Anyway, that said, the science fan in my has a little curiosity about this, though I still have massive doubts that this is even halfway a good idea. The patty doesn't even look right, imo.
Brian Hall
Soil; Read much? It was made of cultured cow muscle cells. Colored with beet juice. Doh. As far as "improving animal welfare", that would start with the death of all the cattle it replaced. Most cattle are alive only to feed us, and if they were unnecessary, they'd be disposed of.
dandrews1138
If it's going to have any natural flavor at all, it's going to need at least a little bit of fat. Fat provides much of the flavor that red meat lovers love.