First vatburger is ready to eat

After spending $250,000 worth of anonymously donated money, Mark Post from Maastricht University is ready to go public with his first vat-grown hamburger, which will be cooked and eaten at an event in London this week. Though they claim that it's healthier than regular meat, one question not answered in the article is the Omega 3/6 balance -- crappy, corn-fed, factory-farmed meet is full of Omega 6s and avoided by many eaters; the grass-fed, free-range stuff is higher in Omega 3s.

Yet growing meat in the laboratory has proved difficult and devilishly expensive. Dr. Post, who knows as much about the subject as anybody, has repeatedly postponed the hamburger cook-off, which was originally expected to take place in November. His burger consists of about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Dr. Post, who has conducted some informal taste tests, said that even without any fat, the tissue “tastes reasonably good.” For the London event he plans to add only salt and pepper.

But the meat is produced with materials — including fetal calf serum, used as a medium in which to grow the cells — that eventually would have to be replaced by similar materials of non-animal origin. And the burger was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous. Large-scale manufacturing of cultured meat that could sit side-by-side with conventional meat in a supermarket and compete with it in price is at the very least a long way off.“This is still an early-stage technology,” said Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales who has long studied the development of what is also sometimes referred to as “shmeat.” “There’s still a huge number of things they need to learn.”

There are also questions of safety — though Dr. Post and others say cultured meat should be as safe as, or safer than, conventional meat, and might even be made to be healthier — and of the consumer appeal of a product that may bear little resemblance to a thick, juicy steak.

Engineering the $325,000 Burger [Henry Fountain/New York Times]

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