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World’s First Test-tube Burger

10:43 AM
World’s First Test-tube Burger
It may look like something you’d chuck on the barbecue without a second thought, but this round of meat costs a very beefy £250,000 — as the world’s first test-tube burger.

After the patty was lightly fried in a little butter and sunflower oil yesterday, the two volunteers chosen to taste it in front of a live audience were hardly effusive, though.

‘I was expecting the texture to be more soft,’ said Austrian food researcher Hanni Rutzler, taking 27 chews before being able to swallow a mouthful. ‘It’s close to meat — it’s not that juicy.’

The second volunteer, food writer Josh Schonwald added: ‘The absence is the fat. But the bite feels like a conventional hamburger. What was conspicuously different was flavour.’

The ‘cultured beef’ takes three months to grow in a laboratory, using cells from a living cow.

Its creator, Dutch scientist Mark Post, claims it could revolutionise the food industry and help save the planet. He believes that artificial meat products could be sold in supermarkets within a decade.

After tasting his invention yesterday, he said: ‘I think it’s a very good start — it proved that we can do this, that we can make it. We are basically catering towards letting beef-eaters eat beef in an environmentally ethical way.’

Asked if he would feed the burger to his children, he said he was saving a piece of the cooked patty to give to them later.

His burgers are created in a four-step process. First, stem cells — which have the power to turn into any other cell — are stripped from cow muscle, which is taken during a harmless biopsy.

Next, the cells are incubated in a nutrient ‘broth’ until they multiply many times over, creating a sticky tissue. This is then bulked up through the laboratory equivalent of exercise — it is anchored to Velcro and stretched.

Finally, 20,000 strips of the meat are minced and mixed with salt, breadcrumbs, egg powder and natural red colourants to form an edible patty.

The secret celebrity backer who bankrolled the £650,000 project was yesterday unveiled as billionaire Google founder Sergey Brin.
Professor Post said: ‘He is as interested in solving the food problems as I am.’

Mr Brin seems to believe quite confidently that man-made meat will do a great deal to help humanity.

In a video message played to attendees at yesterday's event, he said: 'Sometimes when technology comes along, it has the capability to transform how we view our world.

'I like to look at technology opportunities. When technology seems like it is on the cusp of viability and if it succeeds there, it can be really transformative for the world.'

'There are basically three things that can happen going forward - one is that we can all become vegetarian. I don't think that's really likely.

'The second is we ignore the issues and that leads to continued environmental harm and the third option is we do something new.
'Some people think this is science fiction - it's not real, it's somewhere out there. I actually think that's a good thing.'

Professor Post has spent seven years trying to turn stem cells into meat, and was first successful with mouse burgers.

He then tried to grow pork — producing strips with the rubbery texture of squid or scallops — before settling on beef.

His technique, he says, can be used to recreate the flesh of most animals, including rare species such as tigers or pandas, although demand may be questionable.

Before the burger was cooked, he said: 'What we are going to attempt is important because I hope it will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces.

'Our burger is made from muscle cells taken from a cow.
'We haven’t altered them in any way. For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing.'

The raw ingredients are 0.02in (0.5mm) thick strips of pinkish yellow lab-grown tissue.

Professor Post was confident he could produce a burger that was almost indistinguishable from one made from a slaughtered animal.
And perhaps he wasn't far off. After taking a mouthful, taster Ms Ruetzler said: 'I was expecting the texture to be more soft... I know there is no fat in it so I didn't know how juicy it would be.

'It's close to meat. It's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect (but) I miss salt and pepper!'

Professor Post pointed out that livestock farming is becoming unsustainable, with demand for meat rocketing around the world.
Unveiling the research last year at a science meeting in Vancouver, Canada, he said: 'Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years. Right now we are using 70% of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock.

'You can easily calculate that we need alternatives.'
The 'artificial' meat is produced using a complex process - in effect turning a mere dish of stem cells into a burger that can be grilled or fried.

First the stem cells are cultivated in a nutrient broth, allowing them to proliferate 30-fold.
Next they are combined with an elastic collagen and attached to Velcro 'anchor points' in a culture dish. Between the anchor points, the cells 'self-organise' into chunks of muscle.

Electrical stimulation is then used to make the muscle strips contract and 'bulk up' - the laboratory equivalent of working out in a gym.

Finally the thousands of beef strips are minced up, together with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, and moulded into a patty. Around 20,000 meat strands are needed to make one 5oz (142g) burger.

Other non-meat ingredients include salt, egg powder, and breadcrumbs. Red beetroot juice and saffron are added to provide authentic beef colouring.

A major advantage of test-tube meat is that it can be customised for health, for instance by boosting levels of polyunsaturated fats, said Professor Post.

Before the taste demonstration Professor Post was asked if he would feed lab-grown beef to his children.

He said: 'I ate it myself a couple of times without any hesitation whatsoever.

'Now a couple of people are going to taste it and my kids are jealous. I'd be very comfortable for them to taste it.'

Manufacturing steaks instead of minced meat presents a much greater technical challenge, requiring some kind of blood vessel system to carry nutrients and oxygen to the centre of the tissue, he added. Making artificial chicken or fish from stem cells might be easier.

Dr Neil Stephens, a sociologist based at Cardiff University who has studied test tube meat, told AFP that the project was an attempt to spark a debate about an issue that many in the field believe is still not taken seriously enough.

He said that the developers want to demonstrate to the world that in-vitro meat is viable, and that it's something to be taken seriously.
'What will be interesting is, in the coming weeks, watching the response to see how many people are convinced by the technology,' he added.

The animal welfare organisation Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has welcomed the research.

A spokesman said: 'One day you will be able to eat meat with ethical impunity. In-vitro technology will spell the end of lorries full of cows and chickens, abattoirs and factory farming. It will reduce carbon emissions, conserve water and make the food supply safer.
'Lab-grown meat will provide people who were addicted from childhood to the saturated fat in flesh with the ‘methadone’ for their habit.'

The Food Standards Agency said: 'As the competent authority for novel foods in the UK, the Food Standards Agency is closely following emerging technologies and developments concerning novel protein sources as food.

'In-vitro' or cultured meat is not yet commercially viable, but the technology used to produce cultured meat could be advanced enough for trials to take place.

'Any novel food, or food produced using a novel production process, must undergo a stringent and independent safety assessment before it is placed on the market.

'Anyone seeking approval of an in-vitro meat product would have to provide a dossier of evidence to show that the product is safe, nutritionally equivalent to existing meat products, and will not mislead the consumer.

'This would be evaluated under the EU regulation for novel foods, prior to a decision on authorisation. There have been no such applications to date.'

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