Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Lab Meat Needs Exercise

Scientists grow soggy pork protein in cells.

  • December 1, 2009

While growing hamburgers in a vat, much like yogurt, may sound like the stuff of science fiction, the development of in-vitro or cultured meat–animal proteins grown in cell culture rather than in intact organisms–is actually an expanding area of research. (The first annual In Vitro Meat symposium was held in Norway last year.)

Proponents say that culturing meat is much less costly to the environment than raising livestock, an issue that will become increasingly important as the world’s population–and meat consumption–continue to grow.

Scientists at Eindhoven University in Holland have now created a slurry of cell-grown pork protein that they say could be turned into sausages and other products in just a few years. According to an article in the Times of London,

They initially extracted cells from the muscle of a live pig. Called myoblasts, these cells are programmed to grow into muscle and repair damage in animals.The cells were then incubated in a solution containing nutrients to encourage them to multiply indefinitely. This nutritious “broth” is derived from the blood products of animal foetuses, although the intention is to come up with a synthetic solution.The result was sticky muscle tissue that requires exercise, like human muscles, to turn it into a tougher steak-like consistency.

The project, which is backed by a sausage manufacturer and has received £2m from the Dutch government, is seeking additional public funds to improve the technology.

Thanks to safety regulations, scientists haven’t yet tasted the stuff. But they aim to improve the texture by “training” it. “What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue,” Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, who is leading the Dutch government-funded research, told the Times. “We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there. This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it.”

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