What's new

Building beef

By Jasmine, 21 August 2012 News

A piece of meat is examined through a magnifying glass on a stand.

Image: istockphoto.com

It looks something like beef. It tastes something like beef. It’s made from cow cells, but no animal will die in the making of this beef patty.

Biologist Mark Post, from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, plans to eat a lab‑engineered beef burger while appearing on television later this year.

The meat is grown in glass dishes. It appears white, because it doesn’t contain blood. If you looked at the cells under a microscope, they would appear much like the animal muscle that beef is typically made from.

Mark starts out with individual stem cells taken from slaughterhouse cows. He places the cells in a nutrient gel and anchors them in place with Velcro. Then the cells divide and create new tissue. The muscles need to be strong, so the cells are stretched to keep them working hard.

One argument for producing meat in the lab is that it takes a lot of grain to make a kilogram of meat. For every kilogram of beef, a cow eats 7–13 kilograms of grain. Growing this grain requires a lot of open land, water, energy and other resources.

It certainly makes you think about where your food comes from. As Earth’s human population increases, the demand for meat grows stronger. Soon, we may not have enough land to grow the amount of meat to which we are accustomed.

We still have a long way to go to find a new source of meat, however. The burger will cost about $320 000 to make – roughly as much as a house. Any meat grown in a dish will need to be affordable and easy to produce, as well as edible and nutritious.

If you’re after more science news for kids, subscribe to Double Helix magazine!

Subscribe now! button

0 comments

Leave a Reply

By posting a comment you are agreeing to the Double Helix commenting guidelines.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.