Will Stem Cell Burgers Go Mainstream?

Lisa Winter in IFL Science:

ScreenHunter_643 May. 26 11.17Scientists are currently working on developing an alternative to conventional meat. No, this isn’t flavored soy-based tofurkey or anything like that; it’s actual meat. Instead of raising animals, researchers can use the animal’s stem cells and generate meat.

A new paper from Cor van der Weele and Johannes Tramper, both of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, explores the practical aspects of lab-grown meat and where the research stands now. The paper was published in Science & Society.

Laboratory meat admittedly doesn’t sound very enticing on the surface, but environmentalists, animal rights activists, and even NASA have been awaiting a commercially-viable alternative to conventional meat using stem cells. The product is typically referred to as “schmeat” due to the fact that it grows in sheets. Without an animal’s skeleton, the cells remain flat as they differentiate into muscle tissue.

The journey to lab meat started nearly 20 years ago when NASA was approved by the FDA to begin developing meat for use during long-term space missions. In 2008, PETA announced a prize of US$1 million to anyone who could create stem-cell derived chicken meat. The deadline of March 4, 2014 has passed without a winner awarded, but even without prize money, researchers are still hard at work.

Schmeat could also begin to make up for the large environmental drawbacks to raising livestock, as it takes a tremendous amount of food, water, and energy to raise and process all of that meat. Additionally, the methane produced in the gastrointestinal system of the livestock is adding considerably to greenhouse gas emissions. In vitro meat could reduce energy consumption by 45%, greenhouse gas emissions by 96%, and land use by 99%.

More here.