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A beefburger has been ‘grown’ in the lab by Professor Mark Post and co-workers of Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and was cooked and eaten during a live TV conference yesterday. We saw a glimpse of Post’s vision of ‘in vitro’ meat in an article published in Nature in December 2010, and at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting in February of last year Post revealed that he had secured the £200,000 required to grow this headline-grabbing dish.  A significant proportion of this research backing was provided by co-founder of Google Sergey Brin, it has recently been revealed.

The burger is ‘grown’ using cow stem cells which are cultured using nutrients and growth-promoting chemicals. They then  combine in order to form strips of muscle, which are then compacted together to form a patty. Around 20,000 muscle strands were combined to make the burger. Interestingly, the meat is white unless myoglobin is added to give the meat its expected red colour.

So far, the burger is 100% lean, which may explain why it was described as ‘not that juicy’ by Austrian food expert Hanni Ruetzler. However, the texture was described as ‘perfect’. The group are considering attempting to grow fat tissue In order to produce a burger which has more of the taste which you’d expect from your favourite fast food delight, but it has to be remembered that yesterday’s unveiling was a proof of concept first and foremost, and not the final product we’d be seeing on restaurant menus and in our fridges.

Post’s group are coining the burger, and future in vitro meats produced, as a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way for meat to be supplied to a growing (and hungry) world population. Lab-grown beef could be made using less land, energy and water than conventional farming methods, and would result in less carbon dioxide and methane being released into the atmosphere.

Burgers such as these could also be a possible food-source for vegetarians whose abstention from meat is based on moral and ethical grounds. Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, states that this is ‘a step forward to a less violent world’, and that synthetic meat could be a ‘great moral advance.’ However, with many vegetarians claiming that meat is meat no matter how it’s grown, and the idea of eating lab-grown meat repulsing many veggies and meat-eaters alike, the debate continues to rage on.

The burger has resulted from 5 years of research into the growth of in vitro meat, and there is a still a long way to go before lab-grown meat can serve as a viable replacement for farmed cattle, but this is still a big step forward in this area. The team behind this research estimate that cultured meats may become commercially available within 10-20 years, but only time will tell whether this will ever even partially replace the conventional meat we’re used to seeing on our plates.

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