Last June, Mark Post, professor of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, announced plans to create an in vitro sausage. He estimated the cost would be ¬300,000 and take six months with the help of two doctoral students using three incubators.
The UK Telegraph recently reported that lab-grown burgers could be created using similar techniques within a year.
Professor Post said the technique is far from ready for mass production and the cost of creating the first burger could run higher than £220,000.
The Telegraph claims the strips of tissue created in the lab, which are 2.5cm long and less than a centimetre wide, appear grey and soggy but experts hope to make their product as similar as possible to the real thing.
“In vitro meat” is produced from thousands of multiplying stem cells that form strips of muscle tissue. To accomplish this, researchers isolate embryonic or adult stem cells from a given animal, then grow those cells in bioreactors.
As the stem cells perpetually divide and redivide, the cells are programmed to specialize into muscle cells, and allowed to build up muscle mass by stretching the muscle-like strips of tissue to mimic exercise.
The Telegraph notes that pig muscle stem cells only multiply 20 or 30 times in culture before they stop growing. But researchers from Utrecht University have shown that it’s possible to take different stem cells from pig muscle, known as muscle-derived progenitor cells, which can grow from a thousand to several billion in the space of a few months.
Apparently, there are strict regulations preventing anyone from consuming tissue grown in a UK lab which has been fed on animal products.
The Telegraph claims experts based at the University of Amsterdam hope to sidestep this problem by creating a synthetic feed which provides the stem cells with everything they need to grow.
Artificial meat raised on synthetic feed will be a hard sell to an increasingly educated public that already resents being forced to consume unlabeled GM food and cloned livestock.
Emma Hockridge of the Soil Association added: “It is unlikely that lab grown meat would ever replace meat production in the UK and clear that there is still a long way to go before these products are anywhere near being commercially viable.”