Researchers are sure that they can put lab-grown meat on the menu — if they can just get cultured muscle cells to bulk up.
Mark Post has never been tempted to taste the 'fake' pork that he grows in his lab. As far as he knows, the only person who has swallowed a strip of the pale, limp muscle tissue is a Russian TV journalist who visited the lab this year to film its work. “He just took it with tweezers out of the culture dish and stuffed it in his mouth before I could say anything,” says Post. “He said it was chewy and tasteless.” Post, who works at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, is at the leading edge of efforts to make in vitro meat by growing animal muscle cells in a dish. His ultimate goal is to help rid the world of the wasteful production of farm animals for food by helping to develop life-like steaks. In the near term, he hopes to make a single palatable sausage of ground pork, showcased next to the living pig that donated its starter cells — if he can secure funds for his research. Post started out as a tissue engineer interested in turning stem cells into human muscle for use in reconstructive surgery, but switched to meat a few years ago. “I realized this could have much greater impact than any of the medical work I'd been doing over 20 years — in terms of environmental benefits, health benefits, benefits against world starvation,” he says. Largely because of the inefficiency of growing crops to feed livestock, a vegetarian diet requires only 35% as much water and 40% as much energy as that of a meat-eater1. Future 'in-vitrotarians' should be able to claim similar savings.