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In-Vitro meat is the (idea of) manufacturing of meat products through "tissue-engineering" technology. Cultured meat (= in-vitro meat) could have financial, health, animal welfare and environmental advantages over traditional meat. The idea: To produce animal meat, but without using an animal. Starting cells are taken painlessly from live animals, they are put into a culture media where they start to proliferate and grow, independently from the animal. Theoretically, this process would be efficient enough to supply the global demand for meat. All this would happen without any genetic manipulation, i.e. without the need to interfere with the cells’ genetic sequences. 

Producing cultured meat for processed meat products, such as sausages, burgers and nuggets should be comparatively simple, whereas cultured meat which should be more highly structured, such as for an in-vitro steak is considerably more of a challenge. A steak is made of muscle tissue which is threaded through with extremely long, fine capillaries which transport blood and nutrients directly to the cells. It is much more difficult to reproduce such a complex structure than it is to put together the small balls of cells which grow to larger balls of cells which in turn become in-vitro chicken nuggets.

Lab-grown meat is a not a new concept. We’ve had the meatball, the world’s most expensive beefburger, and possibly shrimp. Now it’s the turn of chicken and duck.

San Francisco-based startup, Memphis Meats, has produced the very first “clean meat” poultry grown from cells in a lab, serving them up in a taste test that included classic southern fried chicken and decidedly fancy duck a l’orange.

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Memphis Meats is one of a handful of biotech companies hoping to create commercially available in vitro meat that has all the flavor, texture, and nutrition of meat, without the killing of animals. Using the same technique as their previous beef meatball, the scientists cultured regenerative stem cells taken from the birds and placed them in bioreactor tanks. Once culturing in a sugar and mineral solution, it only takes a few weeks before they are ready to harvest. 

“It is thrilling to introduce the first chicken and duck that didn’t require raising animals,” said Dr Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, in a statement. “This is a historic moment for the clean meat movement.”

Chicken is the most popular protein in the US. The average person consumes 40 kilograms (90 pounds) of chicken a year, which builds to an annual $90 billion domestic market.

“We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, and an incredible business opportunity – to transform a giant global industry while contributing to solving some of the most urgent sustainability issues of our time,” Valeti added.

So, what did the poultry taste like? Apparently, pretty good.

From the 50 billion hamburgers sold in America each year to the billion chicken wings consumed on Super Bowl Sunday alone, our culture revolves around meat.

“The story of human evolution is one that is intimately tied to meat,” said Richard Wrangham, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University. “We are a species designed to love meat.”

But what if instead of biting into a juicy burger produced from traditional livestock methods, your patty was grown inside a lab?

Cultured, shmeat, lab-grown, test-tube meat—however you prefer to reference it, in vitro meat has gone from a sci-fi fantasy concept to near-reality. Multiple teams of researchers and scientists around the world are perfecting the process of creating real meat products by using just an animal’s stem cells.

Currently there are 7 billion mouths to feed worldwide, and that number will only increase over the next few decades to 9 billion by 2050. As a result, the demand for meat is expected to grow by more than two-thirds, which means we will need to somehow produce 70 percent more meat on the same amount of land currently being cultivated and harvested for food production. Twenty-six percent of Earth’s ice-free surface alone is used just for grazing livestock.

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Traditional means of producing meat for human consumption suffer from inefficiency. On average, animal protein production in the U.S. requires 28 calories of feed for every calorie of meat produced, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). One pound of beef can require up to 1,500 gallons or more of water.

Combine these stats with the fact that livestock currently emit 15 to 18 percent of all global greenhouse gases, and the future of sustainable food production looks bleak.
“We can’t just continue doing what we’ve been doing unless we make some changes in how we produce meat on this planet,” said Ken Cook, co-founder of Environmental Working Group. “We’re in for a terrible reckoning.”
Lab-grown solution
In 2013, Mark Post of Maastricht University successfully created the first lab-grown hamburger patty and invited a select few to taste test the product. Although the flavor was a bit lacking, the texture and presentation of the burger were on point.

Post utilized his experience with making tissues and blood vessels for bypass grafting to develop similar techniques when creating the beef.

After gathering stem cells from a cow, Post’s team separated muscle cells from fat cells. An individual muscle cell multiplied into over a trillion, and naturally merged to develop myotubes. The myotubes were then placed around a ring of gel where they grew into a piece of muscle tissue. Another trillion pieces of muscle tissue combined to form what now looks and feels just like a traditional burger.  

However, the initial burger cost more than $300,000 to make and it was missing the delicious fatty component we all enjoy.

After death, enzymes in meat tissue break down into simpler amino acids, sugar and fatty acids that provide that addicting flavor you can only get from naturally grown meat—for now.

“We are developing fat tissue, and improving the ‘maturity’ of the muscle cells as well. Both should make the meat juicier,” Peter Verstrate told Laboratory Equipment. Verstrate is a food technician who worked alongside Post and is the projected CEO of Mosa Meat, the company created as a result of the lab-grown burger.

Since the taste test, the research group is on track to drastically reduce the cost of the burger to about $11 per burger or $36 per pound, according to Verstrate. He also noted the cost will continue to drop as the product moves to mass production.