We’ve mentioned the potential of vat-grown meat here before, but I thought it worth bringing up again in light of an article at Wired UK that goes into more technical detail about the processes involved in growing cultured muscle for human consumption. [image by Marshall Astor]
“We’re developing a very simplified version of what we know as meat,” he explains. “The cells are grown in this dish within a growing medium and this unit is where they receive the electrical stimulation. These electrodes ensure there is an electrical current – about 1Hz – passing through the cells. To make these skeletal cells develop into muscle, they need to be constantly exercised, just like in the body.” This, he explains, is one of the scientific hurdles for in vitro meat that has not yet been fully addressed. “We can convert stem cells into skeletal muscle cells; however, turning them into trained skeletal muscle appears to be a little harder.”
They seem pretty confident about having a commercially viable product within a decade or so… but it’s probably going to delight the tastebuds about as much as the food you get on budget airlines:
“I don’t think we will spend a whole lot of time trying to replicate the taste of meat, though – that will be artificially added later. The food industry is already expert at enhancing taste – creating the right texture is the Holy Grail.”
Why complicate matters, adds Post, when you can nurture skeletal muscles to produce a simple, lean meat? Strip away the connective tissue, blood vessels and fat – as many of us do when we prepare a chicken breast prior to cooking it – and you’re left with a lean fillet of meat which consists of, roughly, 75 per cent water, 20 per cent protein and three per cent fat. Post believes that we are not too far away from producing this kind of meat on a commercial scale – ten years, perhaps. Convincing in vitro steaks and chops are probably a few decades away.
I guess the problem here is that the stuff will never sell until it comes out cheaper than real off-the-hoof meat. Once that price point is reached, however, I suspect the take-up rate will skyrocket.