Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Vitro Meat: Food of the Future

Over the past few years, researchers have been working on methods to make in vitro meat by growing animal muscle cells in a dish. These scientists hope that this “lab meat” could eliminate wasteful production of farm animals for food by developing slabs of steak from a small Petri dish. Mark Post, a researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, is the forerunner of this research. Using myosatellite cells, adult stem cells that are responsible for muscle growth and repair, and regular cell-culture medium to grow his in vitro meat. This medium contains fetal calf serum, which kind of defeats the point of synthetic meat since it comes from dead cows. This serum also contains antibiotics and anti-fungal agents that could be harmful to humans if ingested. Unfortunately, there is no other economically reasonable medium available for him to use currently, but other researchers are close to developing a cheap, animal-free growth serum. In addition to this, the myosatellite cells usually only divide about a dozen times because their telomeres weaken with age. Ways to get around this include adding a gene for the repair enzyme telomerase or adding a tumor-growth-promoting gene. Of course, the latter might be hard selling point to future consumers, but this research is still in its infancy so there is no telling what might happen.

After multiplying the cells by using the growth media, the cells are then grown onto something resembling a scaffold which causes these cells to fuse into myofibers. These myofibers then bundle together to make up muscle. Unfortunately, these “lab muscles” are weak and textureless. Post uses electrical shocks and assembles the myofibers between anchor points to help strengthen them. What about texture and taste? Fortunately, myosatellite cells can turn into fat, which adds to taste. Researchers also believe that if they can get the texture right, more taste will follow, especially when flavoring is added. Besides developing the taste, scientists also need to devise a way to add important nutrients such as iron or vitamin b to this meat. The main obstacle that is preventing this research from progressing is funding. Scientists interested in this research are having a difficult time finding organizations willing to pay for the costly expense that arise in this field. It makes you wonder how expensive it will be to commercialize in vitro meat if research and development were to ever take it that far.

Article can be found here.

Posted by Kevin McLaughlin (2)


  1. The development of in vitro meat has its pros and cons. One of the most important pros would be an alternative to meat for vegetarians, who would be able to get the nutrients that meat provides. This may be debatable because the muscle cells still come from animals, but it seems like a better outcome for the animal. The negative aspect of this development is that it will likely be detrimental to many farms and others in the meat industry. I am curious as to what the price of this intro meat would be, as the article states the the production is costly.

  2. I can understand why no such organizations will support this experiment. Because people are willing to consume natural food,especially nowadays organic food gain more popularity,who will pay such money on man-made meat? That sounds not natural not organic no matter how delicious it tastes.

    Minhui Dai

  3. Thank you for the comments. The price of this meat to start would be much more expensive than regular meat for a while until less costly and more efficient methods arise. I found the vegetarian argument very interesting as well. As of right now, all of the methods for creating in vitro meat involve using part of an animal, which would be a very hard selling point for vegetarians. Overall, I feel that the notion of "lab" meat would turn people off from it to start. Once they realize that it is no different from a animal's tissue and that it could potentially be more healthy for you, I believe many people will be against this kind of industry.

    Posted by Kevin McLaughlin