What Stands Between You and the World's Most Expensive Burger

By Veronique Greenwood | November 15, 2011 3:05 pm

You can dream, but…lab-grown processed meats, let alone steak, are a very
long way off still.

Part of what stands between you and a lab-grown meat patty (a perennial source of fascination around here) is your gag reflex: the pale strips of cultured muscle cells that are currently the top contender for Petri-dish burgerdom look like scraps of mold, and they must be “exercised”—stretched between Velcro tabs—to strengthen and gain meat-ish texture. A patty made from them will be a hand-assembled stack of about 3,000 scraps, and in order to give the stuff color and iron, the lead scientist of the project opined to Reuters, they might need to soak it in lab-grown blood. Gah.

Still, factory farming ain’t pretty either, and the sheer amount of land and other resources we dedicate to meat production can be enough to make you gag as well.

This particular cultured meat project—there are many—hopes to have its first proof-of-concept burger made by August or September next year. But there is a long way to go before this stuff has even a chance of hitting the mainstream, especially since, on top of the gross-out factor, this patty will run, oh, about $345,000. As John Timmer of Ars Technica explores in a post that jumps off from the Reuters feature, even though a real, for-sale cultured meat patty would obviously have to be much cheaper than that to compete with meat, the fact that it takes that much effort and money to make the first one isn’t terribly encouraging. Anyone who has read about efforts to grow organs from stem cells will know what he means: “Getting any cells to grow into mature tissues is ferociously expensive,” he writes, “and adding additional cell types [as would be required for texture and taste] will increase the complexity and cost.”

For a new urethra for an injured child, OK. But for McDonald’s? A lot of things that are still in the realm of basic science will have to change first.

Image courtesy of aaron_anderer / flickr


  • floodmouse

    Humane farming is here now. Buy grass-fed humanely raised animal products (in small quantities), and leave tissue cultures for medical applications. Blee-yeck! Sometimes your gut reactions are good for you.

  • Phil Esteen

    This is really going to disappoint the ‘I gotta kill something and eat it’ crowd over at the NRA.

    I can almost hear their infantile whining now.

  • Ikandu Itu

    Really? All I’m picking up is the faint rustling of straw.

  • Michelle

    Eating carrion makes me gag, but that is exactly what meat-eaters do. Why culture meat? Reset your taste buds. You can survive quite healthily without any meat and help the planet at the same time.

  • Sakoria

    I have to say, I am still perfectly content with going out and harvesting my own wild game. Before I ever consider biting into lab grown meat, I’d like to see science be able to produce viable new organs for patients whose lives depend on it, and cure the common cold. As far as meat goes, I’m pretty sure Mother Nature knows best, she tends to with food in general.

    With as many environmental issues that need to be addressed as there are, I’d say we need to focus on changing the majority of farming/ranching practices to what it used to/should be (grass fed animals on free range without added hormones or corn feed), and increase wildlife conservation efforts. The American diet is atrociously high in meat, it would be wonderful to see people educated on just how little they really need, and that too would help the planet.

  • Thomas

    This reminds me of the early days of commercial faux meat – usually a mix of soy/tofu, cheese/dairy, grains, lentils – with a weak attempt to replicate meat, but without the “eww” factor. I can’t remember the last time I ate a steak, and I could easily forgo big-o-slabs of muscle meat; I don’t have a problem with processed meat products (which are usually something more than meat anyway). I can see a future in this as a good balanced protein source mixed with some of the vegetable sources. I’ve been lactase deficient for almost 20 years, and the only thing I miss is cheese. Now if someone could come up with a good non-dairy source of a casein-like protein, that would rock. Dairy farming, in it’s own way, presents as many negative issues as raising livestock for slaughter, but is so deeply embedded in our culture and economy, really don’t see that going away.

  • Josh

    If humans were not meant to eat meat then we would not be equipped with teeth to do so and our digestive systems would not support it. Also whether it’s a plant or an animal it is still a life form being killed for food, thus complaining that raising live stock for slaughter is inhumane opposed to crops is simply hypocritical.

  • TheCritic

    Man, seeing all this meat in that refrigerator creates in me a strong desire to go out and blow the brains out of lots of little bambis to satiate my hunger for bloody meat.

    Sarcasm aside. I respect a vegetarian lifestyle as a choice; however, some of us just like meat. Doesn’t mean we advocate killing every living thing on the planet, so there’s no need to belittle any one group of people or another. More valuable, less shallow discussion should be expected on a scientific website.

  • Scott

    There are other sources of meat for a growing population that would be less harmful to the environment. People in urban areas could raise – in a clean way – chickens. Also, rabbit meat should be a more accepted meat to eat. Easy to raise, reproduce fast with less impact that raising cattle. The “cute” factor is a matter of social conditioning.
    I see so many wasted, overly watered lawns around LA that could be used to grow veggies, house a chicken/rabbit coop and I think one day, as pressures for food and resources become more strained, everyone will have to resort to this – and why not pigeons and squirrels? Ive had all kinds of meat and most of it is pretty good. I grew up very poor and some of our meals – had to be caught the day of. All good protein sources and could be raised easily in great numbers with much less impact than cattle – just need to educate and change public opinion. Humans will not stop eating meat, sorry vegans, your grains and soy are not the answer – they are not doing you much good anyway if you really dig into the research on their over consumption. A massive population, eating too much meat or too many grains is bad either way – resources will be strained with any diet as the population and demands out pace what can be produced, processed and shipped around.
    I think this type of meat might be a good choice for fast food. I would not seek it out, but I think if they can make it cheap, it would be a good source for $1 burgers for the obese poor who seek their nutrition from McDonalnds.

  • http://www.bonusbonusbonus.sk Športové stávkovanie

    between me and most expensive burger stands the law, right to freedom, and fundamental laws such as “All the people have the right to choose if they want to be burger meat or not”

  • tall blue ape

    you fat, rich, white people crack me up. who cares about your preference for soy burgers? utterly irrelevant.

    7 billion, y’all. seven. billion.

  • http://steampoweredgod.blogspot.com/ Darian Smith

    I think they should consider either genetically engineering them to express genes that give them texture or take cells from naturally muscle-heavy cows that pretty much don’t require exercise for the muscle cells to grow.

  • Matt

    Rubbish, this is the first time such technology has ever been trialled, of course it’s not perfect. It’s likely to be far less contaminated than anything that you buy in supermarkets, both biologically and chemically speaking. And why would you care about lab cultured blood if you’re already eating lab cultured muscle tissue? The inconsistency baffles me.

    To the number 1. commenter, you say that humane farming is already here now, but you must take into context the fact that over 10 million vertebrate mammals are slaughtered every year in the US alone,that humans do not need to eat meat to survive (ask any biologist), and that it has been substantiated that eating any more than 300 grams of lean meat per week (and zero processed meats) will in fact elevate your risk of a variety of cancers (see the World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations from their expert report published in 2007).

    This is ignoring the negative impacts that excessive over-farming has on the environment, and the fact that the majority of the evidence points to the conclusion that many supposed “humane farming” techniques employed in lamb farming (for example) are in fact not as humane as we previously thought, due to nothing other than lack of knowledge at the time.

    I could go on, but this article is incredibly blind sighted in my opinion.


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