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First Lab-Grown Burger Unveiled In London

Taiu Kunimoto |
August 7, 2013 | 11:39 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The world's first lab-grown burger was cooked, served and eaten Monday
The world's first lab-grown burger was cooked, served and eaten Monday

On Monday, in London’s BBC news studio, food critics sampled a five-ounce beef patty that was solely grown in a petri dish. 

The $330,000 burger, funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, smelled and tasted like a real burger according to the critics, but it was not yet up the standard for the public consumption.

Chef Richard McGeown—who has cooked under Michelin-star chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White—prepared the burger in the studio with a crowd of journalists anxiously watching. Then, it was served to two critics Josh Schonwald, the author of “The Taste of Tomorrow” and Hanni Rutzler, an Austrian nutritional scientist.

 “There is absence of fat, but the texture feels like a conventional hamburger,” said Schonwald, remaining critical, but not dismissive of the burger.

“There is quite some intense taste,” said Rutzler after his first bite of the test-tube patty. “It’s close to meat…it’s not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect.” “I just miss some salt and pepper,” she added.

Professor Mark Post, the creator of the lab-grown burger, managed to construct the beef patty using the stem cell technology. 

His team fed and nurtured muscle cells that they had harmlessly harvested from a living cow. With this technique, the single strand of cells multiplied to produce over a trillion new strands. Eventually, Post’s team was able to assemble the 20,000 strands of meat to form a normal sized hamburger.

Post began the Cultured Beef program in the lab of Maastricht University with the goal of finding a solution to meet the growing meat consumption around the world sustainably and ethically. 

Meat prices are expected to rise drastically in the next several decades, as estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

FAO speculates that the demand for meat is going to increase by more than two-thirds in the next 40 years, leaving the current production methods unable to meet the rising demand. 

Although the practice of serving lab-grown meat to consumers have yet to be legally approved, the limited resources needed and the environmental benefits of GMO meat continue to intrigue scientists as a way to reconcile human and environmental demands. 

According to research by the University of Oxford, producing Cultured Beef could use up to 99% less space than current livestock farming methods. The research also cites the benefits of decreased greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional livestock raising techniques. 

The results of the burger tasting were especially celebrated among the animal rights activists. PETA, which has invested in Post’s research for the past 6 years, tweeted “SUCCESS! Taste-testers love their first bite of lab-grown, slaughter-free meat.”

“[For] some people who just ‘have to have’ real meat…that's going to be OK one day, because cultured beef is meat” wrote Michelle Kretzer on the PETA’s official blog. 

“Besides eliminating the need to slaughter billions of animals every year, growing meat in a laboratory would reduce greenhouse-gas emission for meat production by 78 to 96 percent,” she exclaimed.

From the general public, on the other hand, the opinions varied.

 “As far as my knowledge towards the test-tube burger goes, I would eat it,” said Thomas Gratz, one of the customer service representatives at USC.  “I would eat it only if the price goes cheaper by great margin” he added.

Peter Lee, a junior research assistant for the biochemistry lab at UCLA, however, remains skeptical of “non-natural meat.” 

“I would not eat it unless I know exactly what they used to nourish the stem cell,” Lee said. “But most likely it is going to be ‘no’.”

No one really knows what is going to be served on our plates in the future, but—whether you like it or not—packs of lab-grown steak may become regular staples at the supermarket in the coming years. 

Contact Staff Reporter Taiu Kunimoto here



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