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Food

Laboratories around the world advance toward cultured beef and 3-D printing

Creating food from scratch is taking on a new meaning with the development of cultured beef and three-dimensional (3-D) food printing. 

Cultured beef grows in a petri dish, while 3-D food printing utilizes 3-D printers to deposit clumps of cells into patterns of tissues. These cells then fuse together when the printing has been completed. 

Both of these processes require a lab for creating their product, and both use stem cells collected from biopsies from animals. These processes take weeks to produce food, instead of months or years that traditional methods require. 

Food critics

The first lab-grown beef culture was made into a hamburger, cooked and eaten in London in August 2013 by food critics Hanni Ruetzer and Josh Schonwald. 

The burger cost 200,000 pounds to develop and was funded by co-founder of Google Sergery Brin. 

“I was expecting the texture to be more soft biting into it, and there is quite some flavor with the browning,” said Ruetzer. “Knowing there is no fat in it, I didn’t really know how juicy it would be, but there was quite some intense taste. It’s close to meat but not that juicy.”

In reaction to the burger, Schonwald said, “The mouth feel is like eating real meat, and the absence I feel is the fat. It has a leanness to it, but it’s kind of an unnatural experience. Over the past 20 years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a hamburger without ketchup or anything like that.”

The tasting of the lab burger was conducted in front of an invited audience of journalists.

Professor of Vascular Physiology and Tissue Engineering Mark Post from Maastricht University in the Netherlands created the lab-cultured hamburger. 

Public perception

When asked about the public’s perception of the “yuck” factor the lab created hamburger would have to overcome, Post’s response was, “The ‘yuck’ factor may be a convolute of a number of issues by the public, and one of those may be the distrust towards any sort of labs or factory made product.” 

Post added, “We can potentially grow meat in our own kitchens, but we have to know eight weeks in advance what we want to eat.”

The lab-cultured burger was only intended as proof of concept of being able to create food in a lab without having to slaughter animals. 

Commercial production of cultured beef could begin within the next 10 to 20 years. 

Process

To grow meat in a lab, culture flasks are filled with stem cells collected from biopsies from cows. The flasks are used to assemble building cells, which are then used to construct muscle tissues together. 

The muscle tissue starts out at a couple millimeters wide and a few centimeters long. These petite muscle fibers are then assembled together through electrical stimulation to produce a hamburger that is ready to cook and eat. 

“People might think this is a crazy way to produce meat, but it’s inevitable because the way we produce meat right now through livestock is not sustainable,” said Post. “It is not good for the environment or the animals.”

Post added, “We’re actually not going to produce enough meat to meet the world’s demands. This is one of the alternatives and might actually be the alternative.”

3-D printing

Another company that is creating new food production technology is Modern Meadow. Founders of this company are father-and-son team Gabor and Andras Forgacs, who developed the company with the help of the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. 

They are utilizing 3-D printers to begin bio-fabricating food. 

The pair came up with the idea of bio-fabricating food from their efforts of creating tissues in a lab for pharmaceutical research and other medical applications.  They started using bio-fabrication techniques five years ago through the start-up company Organovo. 

“Bio-fabrication techniques have been used in medicine to grow sophisticated body parts, like ears, windpipes, skin, blood vessels and bone, that have been successfully implanted into patients,” explained Andras Forgacs at a TED talk in Edinburg, Scotland. 

Forgacs realizes that consumers are going to be leery of ingesting food that was lab created, so he has started to create leather using this same technology as a gateway material for the mainstream bio-fabrication industry. 

“Animal products are just a collection of tissues, and right now we breed and raise highly complex animals to create products that are made of relatively simple tissues,” said Forgacs.

Forgacs added, “What if, instead of starting with a complex and sentient animal, we started with what the tissues are made of the basic unit of life – the cell?” 

Reasoning

Supporters of this technology say bio-fabrication of food utilizes less water, land and time. It will also create less greenhouse gases. 

“I’m convinced that in 30 years when we look back on today and on how we raise and slaughter billions of animals to make our hamburgers and our handbags, we’ll see this as being wasteful and, indeed, crazy,” stated Forgacs. 

“Until bio-fabrication is better understood, it is clear that initially, at least, more people would be willing to wear novel materials than would be willing to eat novel foods,” said Forgacs. “Bio-fabrication allows us to be creative. We can design new materials, new products and new facilities. 

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..