in vitro meatProfessor Mark Post from Maastricht University released its’ cultured meat burger, a piece of meat that was grown in the lab from stem cells. 

Visionary scientists are sometimes accepted as strange, and William of Eelen is no exception to that rule. On his 87th, he can look back on an extraordinary life. He was born in Indonesia when it was still under Dutch rule. He was the son of a doctor who was at the head of a leper colony. As a teenager he fought during World War II against the Japanese army, and he spent several years in POW camps. The Japanese guards treated the prisoners as slaves and let them starve. “If a street dog was foolish enough to venture over the fence then jumped the prisoners the animal, tore it to pieces and ate it raw on” says Eelen. “If you looked at my stomach, you could see through my spine. I was the living dead. “His camp experiences led to a lifelong obsession with food, survival food and art. One obsession led to another. A few years after American soldiers had liberated Indonesia, Eelen was studying medicine at the University of Amsterdam. A professor showed the students how he had managed to grow a piece of muscle tissue in the lab. This demonstration of Eelen resulted in thinking about the ability to produce culturing meat without slaughtering animals. He thought it was possible to produce protein-rich foods independent of climate or other environmental conditions, and without having to kill without living beings. A thought that in our time is more popular than ever. In 1940 the world population stood at just over two billion, and global warming was not even addressed.

Meat grown in bioreactors instead of on farms can alleviate the planetary stress. Hanna Tuomisto, a PhD student at the University of Oxford, was co-author of a study conducted last year on the potential environmental impacts of cultured meat. The investigation revealed that this production would use an estimated 35 to 60 percent less energy, 80 to 95 percent less greenhouse gases would be emitted and 98 percent less land use. Now 30 percent of the ice-free land is used for grazing and to feed cattle. If cultured meat would be widely consumed than much of that land would be released for other purposes. For example, there would be new forests to be able to pick up more carbon dioxide.

In normal circumstances, only 10 cells turn in to 50,000 tons of meat in two months time. A cell line is enough to feed the world.
Winston Churchill was accepting that as a good idea. “Within fifty years we will be able to surmount the absurd rules and we must grow separate parts like breast or wing of a whole chicken” he predicted in his book “Thoughts and Adventures” in 1932. Few people took this idea seriously in the 20th century except Eelen.  He put an organization on legs that helped disadvantaged children and became the owner of art galleries and cafes.  Together with two partners, he obtained a patent in 1999 in Dutch, and then obtained a European and ultimately a U.S. patent. In 2005 he and others finally convince the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs to free two million for research on in vitro meat in the Netherlands. It was the biggest government subsidy for such research ever. With a small grant from NASA, which is interested in developing food sources for deep space travel, Morris managed to grow meat on skeletal muscle of a goldfish, and let it continue to grow outside the fish. Then he marinated the transplanted tissue briefly in olive oil, garlic, lemon and pepper, bread crumbs sprinkled over it and baked it. “At a panel, female colleagues tested it with the eyes and nose,” said Benjaminson, research director at Touro College in Bay Shore, New York. “It looked just like any fish you can buy in the supermarket and smelled the same.” But NASA funding has been stopped. Apparently the organization is satisfied that there are easier ways to provide astronauts with protein. Eelen and HP Haagsman – a scientist at the University of Utrecht – used the Dutch money to form a consortium. This was intended to show that stem cells – may be, put in culture and induced to develop into skeletal muscle cells obtained from farm animals. Each university examined other aspects of in vitro meat production. Scientists from the University of Amsterdam focused on producing efficient breeding grounds. A group in Utrecht looked for the best techniques to isolate stem cells and the people of the University of Technology in Eindhoven tried to train the muscle cells to outgrow. Scientists booked some progress. They were able to grow thin strips of muscle tissue in the lab. It looked like pieces of seafood and had the texture of calamari but there were many obstacles existing to achieve commercial production. “We learned a lot but we could not find anything that tasted like steak from our dishes” says Peter Farthest Rate.

In 2005, in an article in the New York Times it is mentioned that “meat would be produced in labs in a few years”. Researchers had the first peer-reviewed article about the possible industrial production of in vitro meat published in the magazine. Among the authors Jason Matheny, was the founder of New Harvest, an association for the defense of in vitro meat. He sees the challenge sharper than others. “Tissue Production is currently still very difficult and extremely expensive” he says. “For commercial to be feasible, we should mainly solve the technical problems that increase the cost of in vitro production.” That is, in turn, need money, and but governments or organizations are very little willing to invest in.” For the researchers this attitude creates a lack of foresight.


In theory, an in vitro meat factory works in this way:

First technicians extract embryonic or adult stem cells from a pig, cow, chicken or any other animal. Then they grow cells in bioreactors. Then technicians instruct the cells to transform themselves into muscle cells (instead of e.g. bone or brain cells). In the final stage trains the muscles to grow. The muscle cells brought to a greater density at this time. One difficulty is that producing stem cell lines grow at a stretch and suddenly decide they want to be something else. Another challenge is for the security to ensure that when stem cells are instructed to form muscle tissue the vast majority does.

In normal circumstances, these cells double for a long time, which means that 10 cells turns into a huge amount of meat in just two months time, an estimated 50,000 tons. According to a 2009 report from the Utrecht team “Embryonic stem cells would be ideal breeding material for this purpose, because they have an almost unlimited capacity for self-renewal”. In theory, such a production line is sufficient to literally to feed the world. Up to now, only such production lines developed from mice, rats, rhesus monkeys, and humans. Embryonic cells from farm animals tend to quickly change into specialized cells. Spontaneously the pig cells of the Utrecht team quickly reoriented themselves to neural cells; brain instead of bacon. The group of Utrecht also worked with adult stem cells, which have the advantage that they are largely predetermined. These cells are in skeletal muscle with a specific purpose: to undertake restoration work as a tissue is injured or dead. So if you want to grow in vitro meat and stem cells adult stem cells from skeletal muscle should be fine base material. Until now, scientists have not succeeded in these cells as easy as embryonic cells. The cost is a serious barrier. The soil on which stem cells are cultured is very expensive. With the techniques now available, it would cost more than 50,000 Euros to produce a pound of meat. Once the scientists can produce a good supply muscle cells, they try to keep them alive and make ​​stronger.  They can already produce a thin strip of tissue, but if that is thicker than a few layers of fabric, pieces of it begin to die. The cells have a constant supply of fresh food in order to stay alive. In the body, blood assumes this work for supply and for the removal of waste. Mark Post is working on a three-dimensional system that nutrition could arrange. He also examines how to make muscle cells ​​firmer. Our body succeeds in several ways, including through physical training. In a lab, scientists can give the tissue electrical impulses. But that is expensive and inefficient, because the cells are only 10% firmer using that way. Another method is to provide anchor points: if the cells adhere to different anchors, they develop self tension.  But at this moment, “you should not expect Schwarzenegger muscles,” he says. He thinks of another method, which he would work best, but is even more complex. The body stimulates muscle growth in a natural way through micro pulses of chemicals as acetylcholine. These materials are inexpensive, which makes this method attractive. “The trick lies in the pulses: strong but of very short duration,” says Post. This is not scientific, but a technological obstacle.

In 2008 animal rights organization PETA offered $ 1 million to the first person or group which can grow chicken in a lab in a commercially viable way. But that was mainly a publicity stunt, not really a support for scientists’ recent need to be successful. On a more serious way the Dutch government recently pledged 800,000 Euros to a new four-year project at the University of Utrecht. There is also an investigation launched on the social and moral aspects of the production of in vitro meat.

According to some, social acceptance is still the biggest barrier to commercial production of in vitro meat.  Scientists find cultured meat idea as a great idea but there are many non-scientists afraid of “said Hanna Tuomisto. It sounds frightening.  She is fascinated by the emotional reactions of some people. “We call it the ‘yuck reaction'” she says. In the beginning people think this meat will be infected or disgusting but that perception can change quickly. People often associate cultured meat with genetically modified foods. It is seen particularly in Europe as a dangerous plan of companies to dominate the food supply or control. On the other hand, there is the negative image of the meat industry in general, with its mega farms, diseases and animal cruelty. Once people start to realize that cultured meat is not genetically modified and is a clean, friendly alternative to factory farms could form the fearful, negative reaction disappears very quickly.

These are of course only anecdotal observations. The research will receive reaction of the public from different regions and cultures. “I do not think you want to know about the sanitary conditions in all most slaughter houses in the U.S.” said Mark Post, who spent seven years at Harvard before returning to the Netherlands in 2002. Yet another epidemic of a meat-related disease known as mad cow disease or bird flu would make in vitro meat certainly attractive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.