The year is 2013. There are over seven billion people living in the world, over 300 million in the USA alone. In many parts of the world, housing is dilapidated and overcrowded. Homeless populations overflow in major cities and food has become increasingly scarce. Real food…I mean.
In an effort to address the issue of food shortages, google co-founder Sergey Brin came out this week as the mystery billionare who reportedly funded research for the first artificial hamburger to the tune of $375,000 for a 5 ounce piece of “meat”. From an interview with journalists from Science Magazine:
“There are basically three things that can happen going forward. One is that we all become vegetarian,” Brin said. “The second is we ignore the issue and that leads to continued environmental harm, and the third option is we do something new.”
The research was conducted by the Dutch food scientist, Mark Post, at his lab in Maastricht University, Netherlands. He has been trying to culture beef from myoblast cells since getting funded for his in vitro meat research in 2008.
As can be expected with growing a burger from only a cow muscle biopsy, the color of the burger was somewhat of an “issue”. The red color of meat is caused by myoglobin and since there isn’t any in cell culture…well…a white burger was born. As if eating a lab grown burger wasn’t difficult enough. In an attempt to make the burger
less nasty more consumer friendly, the researchers used a mix of beetroot juice, saffron, and a little bit of caramel to create a red coloring that turns brown upon being cooked. Sounds like Soylent Green delicious!
All joking aside, the benefits from finding a new solution to the world’s food problems are enormous.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, global meat consumption may increase from roughly 228 million tons in 2002 to about 465 million tons in 2050. Cultured meat could vastly reduce animal suffering and stop livestock from taking up huge tracts of land and polluting the atmosphere with methane and other greenhouse gases that they emit. In a 2011 study, scientists at the University of Oxford and the University of Amsterdam estimated that cultured meat may need 35% to 60% less energy, occupy 98% less land, and produce 80% to 95% less greenhouse gases than conventional meat. In an interview late last year with ScienceNOW, Post said he realized the potential of lab-grown meat as soon as he heard about it. “The societal impact it could have is way more than any of my biomedical research of the last 25 years.”
So now with the part that really grinds my gears. The methods used to grow the “burger” are far from being “animal friendly.” Most animal and human cells cultured in vitro are grown using a critical component of a nutritional broth called Fetal Calf Serum. This component is collected from slaughterhouses, and researchers have yet to find a suitable substitute that is free from dead animals. So until we have this problem sorted out…why do we care about a $375,000 burger ?
Although it apparently has the same juiciness as real hamburger, I’ll stick to tuinbonen. Thanks anyway.