As someone who was named after the act of killing and eating animals, that’s a scary prospect. I love meat. I’d rather die than have to eat seitan for the rest of my life. Luckily, a team of scientists is working to grow meat in laboratories and market it to consumers in an affordable, sustainable way.
Those scientists?—?led by a Dutch physiology professor?—?grew a synthetic hamburger from a cow’s stem cells in a petri dish in 2013. The burger was cooked and eaten in London that year.
Here’s a photo of it:
They did it by extracting stem cells from cow muscle tissue?—?a process that doesn’t harm the animal at all?—?and sticking those cells in a test tube. Then, they added nutrients to get the cells to multiply and differentiate, and then added fat to make the burger juicier (otherwise it would be too muscle-y, and no one wants that).
The bad part is that the five-ounce burger cost the group about $350,000 to produce. Yes, that’s an absurd amount of money to create one piece of fake meat. But at the time, the whole growing-meat-from-stem-cells process was still the stuff of science fiction?—?a mad experiment?—?so the costs were high.
But the Dutch professor in charge of this experiment, Mark Post, said in 2015 that his team had already cut the cost down by 80%, and plans to lower it even more?—?meaning one day these futuristic burgers will cost less than $10, making it affordable to regular people who want an alternative to beef.
Post has said he and his team could reach that point as soon as 2020.
Beef?—?all meat?—?would be hard to give up. It’s delicious, and it’s a crucial part of holidays and other American traditions. But we’ll have to cut down on our consumption if we care about the planet. The carbon footprint of a single burger is huge. Livestock and their byproducts account for over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide?—?that’s more than what all the cars in the world produce combined.
Look at it this way: Right now, we get about 100 burgers out of a single cow. Post says that?—?if the lab-grown beef process can be streamlined?—?one cow could make 100 million burgers. If the group can grow the beef tissue in a reactor half the size of an Olympic swimming pool, it would make enough hamburgers to feed 20,000 for an entire year. He’s speaking theoretically, but those numbers give a sense of the incredible potential of this process.
The best part? Eating Frankenburgers means we won’t have to switch to seitan.