It may not be very long before you can go into a restaurant and order "one hamburger, hold the cow." Dutch startup Mosa Meat has secured €7.5 million (US$8.8 million) in funding to take lab-grown meat from an expensive laboratory experiment to an affordable commercial commodity. By using more advanced techniques to grow meat from cultured animal cells, the goal is to create burgers and other meat products that are both sustainable and affordable.

When the Maastricht University team led by Mark Post showed the world the first hamburger made from lab-grown meat in 2013, it wasn't exactly dollar menu fast food. The modest looking sandwich costed out at €250,000 (US$330,000) – and that was without fries. To bring down the prices, Post co-founded Mosa Meat with an eye on commercializing the process.

The latest funding by Merck, and Bell Food Group's corporate venture capital arm, M Ventures, gives Mosa Meat the backing of the leading meat processor in Switzerland as well as Google's Sergey Brin, the Glass Wall Syndicate, and others. This capital will be used to develop an end-to-end process for cultured meat production that will hit the market by 2021 with a cost per burger of €9 (US$10) with further reductions inside of the next seven years.

According to Mosa Meat, the process for producing cultured, or "clean," meat is to take muscle tissue from an animals under anesthesia using a biopsy probe. Cells from this tissue are then induced to revert to myosatellite stem cells, which are the embryonic precursors to muscle cells.

These cells are placed in a carefully controlled nutrient serum in a bioreactor, where they proliferate. When enough cells are grown, the nutrients are reduced, causing the cells to differentiate and form a primitive muscle tissue called myotubes. They are then transferred to a hydrogel medium to help them form into muscle fibers by the thousands until, after suitable infusion with myoglobin-like substances to give them the proper color and being ground, they resemble hamburger or sausage meat.

The company says that the biggest challenge at present is to find a substitute for the fetal bovine serum currently used as a nutrient because it negates the whole no-animals-needed thing. The hope is to find an economical substitute.

"Meat demand is soaring and in future won't be met by livestock agriculture alone," says Lorenz Wyss, CEO of Bell Food Group. "We believe this technology can become a true alternative for environment-conscious consumers, and we are delighted to bring our know-how and expertise of the meat business into this strategic partnership with Mosa Meat."

Source: Mosa Meat (PDF)

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