In 1932 Winston Churchill predicted, “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium” [excerpt from Thoughts and Adventures.]1

    What gave Churchill the confidence to say this 86 years ago? The first successful synthesis of living edible protein was not until 2002 with sponsorship by NASA when Morris Benjaminson removed skeletal muscle tissue from a mere goldfish and cultivated it outside the fish’s body.2 In fact, the first ‘In Vitro’ burger was not produced until 2013 by Dr. Mark Post.3 Get this the price- $331,000 paid for by Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google!4 Churchill wasn’t awfully far off in his prediction considering a couple of companies now, Finless Fish, Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, Super Meat, & Hampton Creek, have almost made this meat available for consumers.

    The fact remains that there are 7.2 billion people on planet Earth and by 2050 an expected 9 billion will be inhabiting this pale blue dot.1 World wildlife fund claims 25% of global land use is occupied by beef. A 2013 report by United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization predicts that worldwide meat consumption will rise by 73% from 2010 to 2050.1 Also, the report states the livestock industry accounts for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions & an even larger amount in transportation specifically for that industry.1 What does lab-grown meat look like in comparison? Here’s a visual projection from University of Oxford & University of Amsterdam5:

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Land availability rapidly decreasing and transportation costs rapidly increasing makes lab-grown meat look as revolutionary as an aquaponics system in comparison with conventional factory farming.

    The journey has been expensive and long, and without backing from Richard Branson and Bill Gates, Memphis Meat’, ‘Meat without slaughter’, wouldn’t exist.6 Bill Gates is an advocate & large shareholder in the GMO giant, Monsanto, as well. The beginning of stem-cell lab grown meat was not appetizing as it required “a suitable medium.” Mark Post is a doctor specializing in cardiovascular disorders; as aforementioned he has also created the first lab grown burger. Post utilized fetal bovine serum (FBS).3 That’s right, dead baby cows. That may not be the case anymore though, as Steve Myrick, VP of Business Development at Memphis Meats told Gizmodo, “We have validated our first process and created Memphis Meat without fetal bovine serum.” The potentiality is high that Memphis Meats is working with a chemically defined media derived from plant cells. In fact Santiago Campuzano in conjunction with New Harvest 501(c)(3) is currently working on a project described as ‘Plant-Derived Scaffolds for Supporting In-Vitro 3D Cell Culture at Small & Large Scales’.7 Interestingly enough the Pelling lab has successfully pulled off an apple-derived cellulose for a low cost support system that could eradicate the need for FBS.7 With the secrecy surrounding these new startups such as Memphis Meats it wouldn't be surprising if they are working with a similar medium given their almost limitless budgets and incredibly advanced labs. Santiago started in September 2017 and will explore the potential of five plant sources including asian pear, carrot, rose petals, asparagus, and mushrooms as a growing medium for the next three years.7 Medium replacement has long been the topic of discussion; in fact a report by Daniel Brunner et al. was published in 2010 titled ‘Serum Free Cell Culture: The Serum-free Media Interactive Online Database.’ The report highlighted good cell culture practice (GCCP), and was very clear in acknowledging the issues behind using FBS from ethical concerns to fetus availability (if interested in reading more click here). The discussion briefly mentions bug proteins used in conjunction as another alternative scaffold for 3D in vitro growth.8 Bugs are an incredible resource for protein and are not being used to the full potential capacity.

    In short, this meat is going to be on a supermarket shelf near you soon. It may or may not be labeled. It may be structured with vegetable cellulose or it may take two fetuses to make a pound. The conventional meat industry of factory farming is loaded with ethical and environmental problems and an alternative needs to be found especially as consumption demands increase. More science needs to be done of the topic of cultivated meat and legislation for labeling such as with GMOs is imperative.

Edited by Grace McLeod.

1Bartholet, J. (2011), 2Benjaminson, M. et al. (2002), 3http://www.new-harvest.org/mark_post_cultured_beef, 4https://www.futuresplatform.com/blog/are-we-ready-artificial-meat, 5Tuomisto, H (2011),6Malkan, S. (2016), 7http://www.new-harvest.org/plant_based_scaffold_materials, 8Brunner, D. (2010)

 

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