Cultured meat is produced using many of the same tissue engineering techniques traditionally used in regenerative medicine. The concept of cultured meat was popularized by Jason Matheny in the early 2000s after co-authoring a seminal paper on cultured meat production and creating New Harvest, the world's first non-profit organization dedicated to supporting in vitro meat research.
In 2013, Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, was the first to showcase a proof-of-concept for cultured meat by creating the first burger patty grown directly from cells. Since then, several cultured meat prototypes have gained media attention: however, because of limited dedicated research activities, cultured meat has not yet been commercialized. Mosa Meat, the company co-founded by Dr. Post, has indicated that they may bring cultured meat to the market by 2021. Because cultured meat is not yet commercially available, it has yet to be seen whether consumers will accept cultured meat as meat.
The production process still has much room for improvement, but it has advanced under various companies. Its applications lead it to have several prospective health, environmental, cultural, and economic considerations in comparison to conventional meat.
- 1 Nomenclature
- 2 History
- 3 Production
- 4 Research challenges
- 5 Differences from conventional meat
- 6 In fiction
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Besides cultured meat, the terms slaughter-free meat, in vitro meat, vat-grown, lab-grown meat, cell-based meat, clean meat, and synthetic meat have all been used by various outlets to describe the product.
Clean meat is an alternative term that is preferred by some journalists, advocates, and organizations that support the technology. According to the Good Food Institute, the name better reflects the production and benefits of the meat and surpassed "cultured" and "in vitro" in media mentions as well as Google searches.
The theoretical possibility of growing meat in an industrial setting has long captured the public imagination. Winston Churchill suggested in 1931: "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."
Smooth muscle derived from the inner media and intima of immature guinea pig aorta were grown for up to 8 weeks in cell culture. The cells maintained the morphology of smooth muscle at all phases of their growth in culture. After growing to confluency, they grew in multiple overlapping layers. By week 4 in culture, microfibrils (110 A) appeared within the spaces between the layers of cells. Basement membrane-like material also appeared adjacent to the cells. Analysis of the microfibrils showed that they have an amino acid composition similar to that of the microfibrillar protein of the intact elastic fiber. These investigations coupled with the radioautographic observations of the ability of aortic smooth muscle to synthesize and secrete extracellular proteins demonstrate that this cell is a connective tissue synthetic cell.
The culturing of stem cells from animals has been possible since the 1990s, including the production of small quantities of tissue which could, in principle be cooked and eaten. NASA has been conducting experiments since 2001, producing cultured meat from turkey cells. The first edible sample was produced by the NSR/Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium in 2002: goldfish cells grown to resemble fish fillets.
In 1998 Jon F. Vein of the United States filed for, and ultimately secured, a patent (US 6,835,390 B1) for the production of tissue engineered meat for human consumption, wherein muscle and fat cells would be grown in an integrated fashion to create food products such as beef, poultry and fish.
Early 21st century
In 2001, dermatologist Wiete Westerhof from the University of Amsterdam, medical doctor Willem van Eelen, and businessman Willem van Kooten announced that they had filed for a worldwide patent on a process to produce cultured meat. In the process, a matrix of collagen is seeded with muscle cells, which are then bathed in a nutritious solution and induced to divide. Scientists in Amsterdam study the culture medium, while the University of Utrecht studies the proliferation of muscle cells, and the Eindhoven University of Technology is researching bioreactors.[dead link]
In 2003, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of the Tissue Culture and Art Project and Harvard Medical School exhibited in Nantes a "steak" a few centimetres wide, grown from frog stem cells, which was cooked and eaten.
The first peer-reviewed journal article published on the subject of laboratory-grown meat appeared in a 2005 issue of Tissue Engineering.
In 2008, PETA offered a $1 million prize to the first company to bring lab-grown chicken meat to consumers by 2012. The Dutch government has put US$4 million into experiments regarding cultured meat. The In Vitro Meat Consortium, a group formed by international researchers interested in the technology, held the first international conference on the production of cultured meat, hosted by the Food Research Institute of Norway in April 2008, to discuss commercial possibilities. Time magazine declared cultured meat production to be one of the 50 breakthrough ideas of 2009. In November 2009, scientists from the Netherlands announced they had managed to grow meat in the laboratory using the cells from a live pig.
As of 2012, 30 laboratories from around the world have announced that they are working on cultured meat research.
The first cultured beef burger patty, created by Dr. Mark Post at Maastricht University, was eaten at a demonstration for the press in London in August 2013. It was made from over 20,000 thin strands of muscle tissue. This burger cost Dr. Post over $300,000 to make and over 2 years to produce. Two other companies have also begun to culture meat; Memphis Meats in the US and SuperMeat in Israel.
As of February 2017, a recent report has shown that the price of these cultured burgers has dropped dramatically. Going from roughly over $300,000 to $11.36 in just 3 and a half years. This cost is now only 9-10 times more expensive per pound than standard ground beef.
First public trial
On August 5, 2013, the world's first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten at a news conference in London. Scientists from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, led by professor Mark Post, had taken stem cells from a cow and grown them into strips of muscle which they then combined to make a burger. The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown of Couch's Great House Restaurant, Polperro, Cornwall, and tasted by critics Hanni Rützler, a food researcher from the Future Food Studio and Josh Schonwald. Rützler stated,
There is really a bite to it, there is quite some flavour with the browning. I know there is no fat in it so I didn't really know how juicy it would be, but there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, it's not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect. This is meat to me... It's really something to bite on and I think the look is quite similar.
Tissue for the London demonstration was cultivated in May 2013, using about 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue. Funding of around €250,000 came from an anonymous donor later revealed to be Sergey Brin. Post remarked that "there's no reason why it can't be cheaper...If we can reduce the global herd a millionfold, then I'm happy". By 2018, Mosa Meat had reduced the production cost of a single burger to €9.
– Peter Verstrate, Mosa Meat (2018)(1:06:15)
Since Dr. Post successfully produced the first cultured meat burger in 2013, a variety of startups and organizations dedicated to developing or advancing cultured meat have been founded. In 2015, Maastricht University hosted the first International Conference on Cultured Meat. As the field has grown, nonprofit organizations such as New Harvest and The Good Food Institute have begun hosting annual conferences to convene industry leaders, scientists, investors, and potential collaborators from parallel industries. As of 2019, over two dozen startups working on cultured meat have been founded.
Memphis Meats, a Silicon Valley startup founded by a cardiologist, launched a video in February 2016 showcasing its cultured beef meatball. In March 2017, it showcased chicken tenders and duck a l'orange, the first cultured poultry-based foods shown to the public.
Finless Foods, a San Francisco-based company aimed at cultured fish, was founded in June 2016. In March 2017 it commenced laboratory operations and progressed quickly. Director Mike Selden said in July 2017 to expect bringing cultured fish products on the market within two years (by the end of 2019).
In March 2018, JUST, Inc. (in 2011 founded as Hampton Creek in San Francisco) claimed to be able to present a consumer product from cultured meat by the end of 2018. According to CEO Josh Tetrick the technology is already there, and now it is merely a matter of applying it. JUST has about 130 employees and a research department of 55 scientists, where lab meat from poultry, pork and beef is being developed. They would have already solved the problem of feeding the stem cells with only plant resources. JUST receives sponsoring from Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang and according to Tetrick also from Heineken International amongst others.
The Dutch startup Meatable, consisting of Krijn de Nood, Daan Luining, Ruud Out, Roger Pederson, Mark Kotter and Gordana Apic among others, reported in September 2018 it had succeeded in growing meat using pluripotent stem cells from animals' umbilical cords. Although such cells are reportedly difficult to work with, Meatable claimed to be able to direct them to behave using their proprietary technique in order to become muscle cells or fat cells as needed. The major advantage is that this technique bypasses fetal bovine serum, meaning that no animal has to be killed in order to produce meat. That month, it was estimated there were about 30 cultured meat startups across the world. A Dutch House of Representatives Commission meeting discussed the importance and necessity of governmental support for researching, developing and introducing cultured meat in society, speaking to representatives of three universities, three startups and four civil interest groups on 26 September 2018.
The initial stage of growing cultured meat is to collect cells that have a rapid rate of proliferation (high cell reproduction rate). Such cells include embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, myosatellite cells, or myoblasts. Stem cells proliferate the quickest, but have not yet begun development towards a specific kind of cell, which creates the challenge of splitting the cells and directing them to grow a certain way. Fully developed muscle cells are ideal in the aspect that they have already finished development as a muscle, but proliferate hardly at all. Therefore, cells such as myosattelite and myoblast cells are often used as they still proliferate at an acceptable rate, but also sufficiently differentiate from other types of cells.
The cells are then treated by applying a protein that promotes tissue growth, which is known as a growth medium. These mediums should contain the necessary nutrients and appropriate quantity of growth factors. They are then placed in a culture medium, in a bio-reactor, which is able to supply the cells with the energetic requirements they need.
To culture three-dimensional meat, the cells are grown on a scaffold, which is a component that directs its structure and order. The ideal scaffold is edible so the meat does not have to be removed, and periodically moves to stretch the developing muscle, thereby simulating the animal body during normal development. Additionally the scaffold must maintain flexibility in order to not detach from the developing myotubes (early muscle fibers). Scaffold must also allow vascularization (creation of blood vessels) in order for normal development of muscle tissue.
Scaffold-based production techniques can only be appropriately used in boneless or ground meats (processed). The end result of this process would be meats such as hamburgers or sausages. In order to create more structured meats, for example steak, muscle tissue must be structured in directed and self-organized means or by proliferation of muscle tissue already existing. Additionally, the presence of gravitational, magnetic, fluid flow, and mechanical fields have an effect on the proliferation rates of the muscle cells. Processes of tension such as stretching and relaxing increased differentiation into muscle cells.
Once this process has been started, it would be theoretically possible to continue producing meat indefinitely without introducing new cells from a living organism. It has been claimed that, conditions being ideal, two months of cultured meat production could deliver up to 50,000 tons of meat from ten pork muscle cells.
Cultured meat production requires a preservative, such as sodium benzoate, to protect the growing meat from yeast and fungus. Collagen powder, xanthan gum, mannitol and cochineal could be used in different ways during the process.
The price of cultured meat at retail outlets like grocery stores and supermarkets may decrease to levels that middle-class consumers consider to be "inexpensive" due to technological advancements.
The science for cultured meat is an outgrowth of the field of biotechnology known as tissue engineering. The technology is simultaneously being developed along with other uses for tissue engineering such as helping those with muscular dystrophy and, similarly, growing transplant organs. There are several obstacles to overcome if it has any chance of succeeding; at the moment, the most notable ones are scale and cost.
- Proliferation of muscle cells: Although it is not very difficult to make stem cells divide, for meat production it is necessary that they divide at a quick pace, producing the solid meat. This requirement has some overlap with the medical branch of tissue engineering.
- Culture medium: Proliferating cells need a food source to grow and develop. The growth medium should be a well-balanced mixture of ingredients and growth factors. Scientists have already identified possible growth media for turkey, fish, sheep and pig muscle cells. Depending on the motives of the researchers, the growth medium has additional requirements.
- Commercial: The growth medium should be inexpensive to produce. A plant-based medium may be less expensive than fetal bovine serum.
- Animal welfare: The growth medium should be devoid of animal sources (except for the initial "mining" of the original stem cells).
- Non-Allergenic: While plant-based growth media are "more realistic," will be cheaper, and will reduce the possibility of infectious agents, there is also the possibility that plant-based growth media may cause allergic reactions in some consumers.
- Bioreactors: Nutrients and oxygen need to be delivered close to each growing cell, on the scale of millimeters. In animals this job is handled by blood vessels. A bioreactor should emulate this function in an efficient manner. The usual approach is to create a sponge-like matrix in which the cells can grow and perfuse it with the growth medium.
Additionally, there is no dedicated scientific research discipline for cellular agriculture and its development. The past research undertaken into cellular agriculture were isolated from each other, and they did not receive significant academic interest. Although it currently exists, long-term strategies are not sufficiently funded for development and severely lack a sufficient amount of researchers.
Differences from conventional meat
Researchers have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could be added to cultured meat as a health bonus. In a similar way, the omega-3 fatty acid content of conventional meat can also be increased by altering what the animals are fed. An issue of Time magazine has suggested that the cell-cultured process may also decrease exposure of the meat to bacteria and disease.
Due to the strictly controlled and predictable environment, cultured meat production has been compared to vertical farming, and some of its proponents have predicted that it will have similar benefits in terms of reducing exposure to dangerous chemicals like pesticides and fungicides, severe injuries, and wildlife.
Concern in regards to developing antibiotic resistance due to the use of antibiotics in livestock, livestock and livestock-derived meat serving as a major source of disease outbreaks (including bird flu, anthrax, swine flu, and listeriosis), and long-term processed meat consumption being associated with increased heart disease, digestive tract cancer, and type 2 diabetes currently plague livestock-based meat. In regards to cultured meat, strict environmental controls and tissue monitoring can prevent infection of meat cultures from the outset, and any potential infection can be detected before shipment to consumers.
In addition to the prevention and lack of diseases, and lack of the use of antibiotics or any other chemical substances, cultured meat can also leverage numerous biotechnology advancements, including increased nutrient fortification, individually-customized cellular and molecular compositions, and optimal nutritional profiles, all making it much healthier than livestock-sourced meat.
Although cultured meat is real meat consisting of genuine animal muscle cells, fat and support cells, as well as blood vessels, that are the same in traditional meat, some consumers may find the high-tech production process distasteful (see appeal to nature). Cultured meat has been described as fake or "Frankenmeat". Clean meat can be produced without the artificial hormones, antibiotics, steroids, medicine, and GMOs commonly used in factory farmed meat and seafood.
If a cultured meat product is different in appearance, taste, smell, texture, or other factors, it may not be commercially competitive with conventionally produced meat. The lack of bone and cardiovascular system may be a disadvantage for dishes where these parts make appreciable culinary contributions. However, the lack of bones and/or blood may make many traditional meat preparations, such as buffalo wings, more palatable to small children. Furthermore cultured blood and bones could be produced potentially in the future as well. 
Research has suggested that environmental impacts of cultured meat would be significantly lower than normally slaughtered beef. For every hectare that is used for vertical farming and/or cultured meat manufacturing, anywhere between 10 and 20 hectares of land may be converted from conventional agriculture usage back into its natural state. Vertical farms (in addition to cultured meat facilities) could exploit methane digesters to generate a small portion of its own electrical needs. Methane digesters could be built on site to transform the organic waste generated at the facility into biogas which is generally composed of 65% methane along with other gasses. This biogas could then be burned to generate electricity for the greenhouse or a series of bioreactors.
A study by researchers at Oxford and the University of Amsterdam found that cultured meat was "potentially ... much more efficient and environmentally-friendly", generating only 4% greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the energy needs of meat generation by up to 45%, and requiring only 2% of the land that the global meat/livestock industry does. The patent holder Willem van Eelen, the journalist Brendan I. Koerner, and Hanna Tuomisto, a PhD student from Oxford University all believe it has less environmental impact. This is in contrast to cattle farming, "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases" and causing more damage to the environment than the combined effects of the world's transportation system. Vertical farming may completely eliminate the need to create extra farmland in rural areas along with cultured meat. Their combined role may create a sustainable solution for a cleaner environment.
One skeptic is Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who speculates that the energy and fossil fuel requirements of large-scale cultured meat production may be more environmentally destructive than producing food off the land. However, S.L. Davis has speculated that both vertical farming in urban areas and the activity of cultured meat facilities may cause relatively little harm to the species of wildlife that live around the facilities. Dickson Despommier speculated that natural resources may be spared from depletion due to vertical farming and cultured meat, making them ideal technologies for an overpopulated world. Conventional farming, on the other hand, kills ten wildlife animals per hectare each year. Converting 4 hectares (10 acres) of farmland from its man-made condition back into either pristine wilderness or grasslands would save approximately 40 animals while converting 1 hectare (2 acres) of that same farmland back into the state it was in prior to settlement by human beings would save approximately 80 animals.
Additionally, the cattle industry uses a large amount of water for producing animal feed, animal rearing, and for sanitation purposes. It is estimated that the water recycled from livestock manure is contributing "33% of global nitrogen and phosphorus pollution," "50% of antibiotic pollution," "37% of toxic heavy metals," and "37% of pesticides" which contaminate the planet's freshwater.
Role of genetic modification
Techniques of genetic engineering, such as insertion, deletion, silencing, activation, or mutation of a gene, are not required to produce cultured meat. Cultured meat production allows the biological processes that normally occur within an animal to occur without the animal. Since cultured meat is grown in a controlled, artificial environment, some have commented that cultured meat more closely resembles hydroponic vegetables, rather than GMO vegetables.
More research is being done on cultured meat, and although the production of cultured meat does not require techniques of genetic engineering, there is discussion among researchers about utilizing such techniques to improve the quality and sustainability of cultured meat. Fortifying cultured meat with nutrients such as beneficial fatty acids is one improvement that can be facilitated through genetic modification. The same improvement can be made without genetic modification, by manipulating the conditions of the culture medium. Genetic modification may also play a role in the proliferation of muscle cells. The introduction of myogenic regulatory factors, growth factors, or other gene products into muscle cells may increase production past the capacity of conventional meat.
To avoid the use of any animal products, the use of photosynthetic algae and cyanobacteria has been proposed to produce the main ingredients for the culture media, as opposed to the very commonly used fetal bovine or horse serum. Some researchers suggest that the ability of algae and cyanobacteria to produce ingredients for culture media can be improved with certain technologies, most likely not excluding genetic engineering.
The Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu said "Artificial meat stops cruelty to animals, is better for the environment, could be safer and more efficient, and even healthier. We have a moral obligation to support this kind of research. It gets the ethical two thumbs up." Animal welfare groups are generally in favor of the production of cultured meat because it does not have a nervous system and therefore cannot feel pain. Reactions of vegetarians to cultured meat vary: some feel the cultured meat presented to the public in August 2013 was not vegetarian as fetal calf serum was used in the growth medium. However, since then lab grown meat has been grown under a medium that doesn't involve fetal serum. American philosopher Carlo Alvaro argues that the question of the morality of eating in vitro meat has been discussed only in terms of convenience. Alvaro proposes a virtue-oriented approach that may reveal aspects of the issue not yet explored, such as the suggestion that the obstinacy of wanting to produce lab-grown meat stems from unvirtuous motives, i.e., "lack of temperance and misunderstanding of the role of food in human flourishing."
Independent inquiries may be set up by certain governments to create a degree of standards for cultured meat. Laws and regulations on the proper creation of cultured meat products would have to be modernized to adapt to this newer food product. Some societies may decide to block the creation of cultured meat for the "good of the people" – making its legality in certain countries a questionable matter.
Cultured meat needs technically sophisticated production methods making it harder for communities to produce food self-sufficiently and potentially increasing dependence on global food corporations.
Requirement for additional regulation
Once cultured meat becomes more cost-efficient, it is necessary to decide who will regulate the safety and standardization of these products. Prior to being available for sale, the European Union and Canada will require approved novel food applications. Additionally, the European Union requires that cultured animal products and production must prove safety, by an approved company application, which became effective as of January 1, 2018. Within the United States, there is discussion of whether or not cultured meat regulation will be handled by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). The main point of content is whether or not cultured meat is labeled as "food" and regulated by the FDA or as a "meat food product" and regulated by the USDA. Under the FDA, cultured meat would need to follow the FFDCA and have a Food Safety Plan (FSP). Under the USDA, cultured meat would need be regulated by the FSIS who must deem the ingredients safe and usable. It could also be regulated by both government organizations.
Jewish rabbinical authorities disagree whether cultured meat is kosher (food that may be consumed, according to Jewish dietary laws). However, all rabbis agree that if the original cells were taken from a slaughtered kosher animal then the cultured meat will be kosher. Some even think that it would be kosher even if coming from non-kosher animals like pigs, as well as from live animals, however some disagree. Some Muslim scholars have stated that cultured meat would be allowed by Islamic law if the original cells and growth medium were halal. Within Hindu culture, there is significant importance of cattle in religion where the majority of Hindus reject consumption of a cow's meat. The potential of a "meatless beef" has driven debate among Hindus on the acceptance of eating it. A significant number of Hindus reject the meat due to the high prevalence of a vegetarian diet.
The production of cultured meat is currently very expensive – in 2008 it was about US$1 million for a piece of beef weighing 250 grams (0.55 lb) – and it would take considerable investment to switch to large-scale production. However, the In Vitro Meat Consortium has estimated that with improvements to current technology there could be considerable reductions in the cost of cultured meat. They estimate that it could be produced for €3500/tonne (US$5424/tonne in March 2008), which is about twice the cost of unsubsidized conventional European chicken production.
In a March 2015 interview with Australia's ABC, Mark Post said that the marginal cost of his team's original €250,000 burger was now €8.00. He estimates that technological advancements would allow the product to be cost-competitive to traditionally sourced beef in approximately ten years. In 2016, the cost of production of cultured beef for food technology company Memphis Meats was $18,000 per pound ($40,000/kg). As of June 2017 Memphis Meats reduced the cost of production to below $2,400 per pound ($5,280/kg).
Cultured meat has often featured in science fiction. The earliest mention may be in Two Planets (1897) by Kurd Lasswitz, where "synthetic meat" is one of the varieties of synthetic food introduced on Earth by Martians. Other notable books mentioning artificial meat include Ashes, Ashes (1943) by René Barjavel; The Space Merchants (1952) by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) by Douglas Adams; Le Transperceneige (Snowpiercer) (1982) by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette; Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson; Oryx and Crake (2003) by Margaret Atwood; Deadstock (2007) by Jeffrey Thomas; Accelerando (2005) by Charles Stross; Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker; Divergent (2011) by Veronica Roth; and the Vorkosigan Saga (1986-2018) by Lois McMaster Bujold.
In film, artificial meat has featured prominently in Giulio Questi's 1968 drama La morte ha fatto l'uovo (Death Laid an Egg) and Claude Zidi's 1976 comedy L'aile ou la cuisse (The Wing or the Thigh). "Man-made" chickens also appear in David Lynch's 1977 surrealist horror, Eraserhead. Most recently, it was also featured prominently as the central theme of the movie Antiviral (2012).
The Starship Enterprise from the TV and movie franchise Star Trek apparently provides a synthetic meat or cultured meat as a food source for the crew, although crews from The Next Generation and later use replicators.
In the videogame Project Eden, the player characters investigate a cultured meat company called Real Meat.
In the movie "GalaxyQuest", during the dinner scene, Tim Allen's character refers to his steak tasting like "real Iowa beef".
In The Expanse “vat-grown” meat is produced to feed the people who live on spaceships/space stations away from Earth, due to the exorbitant cost of importing real meat.
In popular culture
In February, 2014, a biotech startup called BiteLabs ran a campaign to generate popular support for artisanal salami made with meat cultured from celebrity tissue samples. The campaign became viral on Twitter, where users tweeted at celebrities asking them to donate muscle cells to the project. Media reactions to BiteLabs variously identified the startup as a satire on startup culture, celebrity culture, or as a discussion prompt on bioethical concerns. While BiteLabs claimed to be inspired by the success of Sergey Brin's burger, the company is seen as an example of critical design rather than an actual business venture.
- Cellular agriculture society
- Cultured leather
- List of meat substitutes
- Quorn (food product)
- Timeline of cellular agriculture
- Tissue culture
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