Hold the Cow: Test Tube Burger Coming Soon

PHOTO: In-vitro meat
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One cheeseburger, hold the cow, please.

A Dutch researcher says he is a week away from unveiling a burger patty made from cow meat grown entirely in Petri dishes. The first taster, whose identity has been kept secret, can try the burger on Aug. 5 in London, but it cost about $380,000 to make.

"Current livestock meat production is just not sustainable, from an ecological point of view, or in terms of volume," said Mark Post, the head of physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who developed the test tube burger from bovine stem cells. "We have to come up with alternatives. If we don't do anything, meat will become a luxury food and be very, very expensive."

Read about the "Frankenfish," too.

Although this first burger is pricy, Post's goal is to actually make meat less costly to produce and sell.

The recipe involves taking stem cells from cows, and allowing them to grow and multiply into muscle cells in a "growth medium" on a Petri dish, according to a university spokesperson. "Ducts" made of sugar are used to conduct the growth medium through the growing meat cells to give them nutrients, something like the way blood flows through muscles.

About 3,000 cell strands later, and scientists have enough meat to grind up and put in a burger, according to a press release.

Yum.

In the United States, researchers are working on several test tube meat products. In San Francisco, a company is working on test tube pet food. And Gabor Forgacs, a researcher in Missouri, ate a custard-colored piece of 3D-printed pork in 2011 at a TedMed talk.

And then there's Nicholas Genovese, a researcher at the University of Missouri working on animal-free meat using a line, or stock, of stem cells that reproduce on their own, eliminating the need to kill new animals for more stem cells. He also hopes to use an animal-free "growth medium," which now contains a byproduct of calf blood.

He said Post has been able to do many of the steps involved in making the cow-free burger, but this is an "engineering project" to put the pieces together.

"The purpose is to get attention to say, 'Yes this actually can be done,'" said Genovese, who is not currently making meat but is focused on the stem cell lines. His work is funded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

Read about Genovese's work on test tube meat in South Carolina.

Michael Roberts, who directs the University of Missouri lab where Genovese works, said he supports Genovese's work but it isn't funded by Roberts' grants.

"I think it's going to be very expensive and in the long run not something people are going to eat very readily or or buy very readily," Roberts said. "But I've been wrong before and I'll probably be wrong again."

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