Fake meat: burgers grown in beakers
"We're developing a very simplified version of what we know as meat," he explains. "The cells are grown in this dish within a growing medium and this unit is where they receive the electrical stimulation. These electrodes ensure there is an electrical current - about 1Hz - passing through the cells. To make these skeletal cells develop into muscle, they need to be constantly exercised, just like in the body." This, he explains, is one of the scientific hurdles for in vitro meat that has not yet been fully addressed. "We can convert stem cells into skeletal muscle cells; however, turning them into trained skeletal muscle appears to be a little harder."
But overcoming that challenge would bring vast rewards. The red-meat market was worth $61 billion last year in the US alone, according to Mintel. Carve out even a pastrami-thin slice and the in vitro pioneers will be wealthy beyond imagination. The rewards are not only financial. Livestock's Long Shadow, an influential 2006 report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, calculated that the global livestock industry is responsible for about 18 per cent of mankind's greenhouse-gas emissions - more than all of our cars, trains, shipping and planes combined. The FAO said it also accounts for more than eight per cent of our freshwater use, largely to grow crops fed to animals. Meat production now uses up 70 per cent of the world's agricultural land. And then, of course, there is the animal suffering attributed to the industry and intensive animal-farming.
Last year, the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) announced a $1 million prize for the first team to develop and market in vitro meat. There were, admittedly, some pretty exacting clauses: it set the rather optimistic deadline of June 30, 2012. It also insisted that the winning entrant must "produce an in vitro chicken-meat product that has a taste and texture indistinguishable from real chicken flesh to non-meat-eaters and meat-eaters alike; and manufacture the approved product in large enough quantities to be sold commercially... at a competitive price". Lastly, it said a panel of ten Peta judges would assess the taste and texture of the in vitro chicken, prepared using a classic Southern fried-chicken recipe. No pressure, then.