(Meat) pie in the sky? Looking at the future of lab-grown meats.

by Insa Mohr
figures by Jovana Andrejevic

Reading about cultured meat will be complicated. While many main firms declare to have discovered the holy grail, some educational specialists go to the lengths of calling it a rip-off. But what does the science and market actuality actually inform us about the progress and potential of cultured meat? A overview.


It has been nearly 10 years since the final article about lab-grown meat was printed on Science in the News. Back then, the lack of funding and a spotlight was named as one of the fundamental bottlenecks for progress. This has modified drastically. More than $1bn was poured into the trade by buyers in 2020 alone, and never a month passes by with no media launch on one other alleged scientific breakthrough (see for instance right here, right here, and right here).

So, how a lot has lab-grown meat superior and the way shut is it to being obtainable in grocery shops and eating places? This just isn’t a trivial query! While some sources declare that cultured meat can have its breakthrough and at last land on our plates in 2022, others name it a fantasy or perhaps a rip-off. Both factions backup their claims with quite a few, intensive research. Who is correct? Let’s take a more in-depth look!

Understanding the hype round cultured meat

Lab-grown meat (additionally known as: cultured meat, clear meat, or in-vitro meat) is precise meat grown from cells harvested from an animal with out the must slaughter or in any other case hurt it. Besides bettering animal welfare, the environmental affect of having much less livestock might be huge. Emissions of meat manufacturing might be diminished by greater than 90% along with decrease land and water utilization and diminished nice particulate matter (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Estimated discount of totally different environmental elements for classy meat in comparison with beef cattle (the most resource-intensive kind of meat). Numbers based mostly on an formidable state of affairs utilizing sustainable vitality.

Lab-grown is to not be confused with different various meats comparable to from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat which are purely plant-based. Even although such meat substitutes even have environmental and even well being advantages, their potential is extra restricted, as too many customers attempt plant-based meat merchandise a few times however then return to traditional meat. Therefore, market development for plant-based meat substitutes is already slowing down, additional elevating hopes for lab-grown meat. 

Borrowing from biopharma

Let’s take a quick look at how cultured meat is produced. First, a tissue pattern is taken from a donor animal and stem cells are remoted from it. These cells are then positioned in a bioreactor– a big tank in which organic reactions occur. The cells are then fed with serums wealthy in oxygen and vitamins in the bioreactor. These serums are known as development media. By including totally different proteins to the cells, they’re differentiated into fats and muscle cells. This course of takes about 2-8 weeks, relying on the sort of meat cells. If complete cuts are produced (as in comparison with floor meat merchandise), the course of contains additional steps for including texture (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Production course of for clear meat. Stem cells are harvested from a donor animal after which cultivated  in a bioreactor utilizing development media. Some of these  processes use scaffolding so as to add a special texture to the meat.

Once totally developed, the manufacturing course of is extremely high-yielding; as one tissue pattern can create as much as 10,000kg of meat, solely 150 cows (or different animals) may at some point hypothetically feed the world inhabitants.

Sounds futuristic? Actually, related processes have been used in drugs and meals manufacturing for many years. In reality, everybody who has been vaccinated or drank a beer has consumed a cultured product earlier than.

Three causes for “beef”

Getting straight to the controversy: critics and advocates for classy meat are inclined to deal with three areas. 

1: Making development media cheaper and animal pleasant

In 2018, the development media for a single burger patty averaged a whopping $2,500. But value isn’t the solely challenge right here. Sadly, the simplest, versatile, and cost-efficient media proper now’s an animal welfare nightmare. The media, Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), is obtained from a dwelling cow fetuses’ blood. For early experiments, a whole lot of fetuses have been wanted to provide only one burger patty.

Fortunately, many main firms comparable to Mosa Meat already brazenly declared themselves in opposition to the use of FBS. Thus, a significant half of their analysis effort focuses on the growth of inexpensive artificial alternate options, with remarkable progress thus far.

2: Creating complete meat cuts

Good information first: the style of cultured meat is in no manner inferior to that of conventional meat. The dangerous information is that the texture nonetheless wants enchancment.  Unlike in nature, the cells in the bioreactor don’t develop round tissue, so it’s nonetheless lacking the genuine mouthfeel we anticipate. This implies that floor meat merchandise like burger patties or sausages can already be produced, whereas producing complete cuts comparable to steaks stays the holy grail. Whole cuts are wanted to justify the larger worth level of clear meat versus typical meat. Interestingly, this may be overcome with 3D printing. Companies are at the moment engaged on producing plant-based scaffolds to beat this texture downside. Further down the line, like-for-like items of meat might be replicated by 3D printing a blood vessel system and connective tissues round the cells.

3: Increasing scalability total

Several different challenges will be finest summarized by the time period “scalability”. One problem remaining for culture-grown meat is the want for giant, costly gear. For instance, to course of only one kilogram of muscle protein a 5,000 liter bioreactor is required– for reference, greater than 500 crates of beer will be produced concurrently in a reactor of this dimension.

Another problem comes with the normal stability and pace of the course of. As everyone knows, animals have an immune system, whereas cells in the bioreactor don’t, making the manufacturing course of hypersensitive to contamination. Again, whereas there’s progress being made, these issues make manufacturing at scale a problem.

Scientific feasibility will advance financial feasibility

While the downside of development media prices and tissue engineering could also be solved by way of near-term breakthroughs, the total scalability and value points will take extra time to beat. Nevertheless, costs have already quickly decreased from 250,000€ in 2013 to an estimated 9€ in 2025 (per cultured burger patty, estimated by Mosa Meat). This worth is probably going nonetheless too excessive to switch main elements of at this time’s meat consumption, however will nonetheless entice vital curiosity from the rising group of sustainability-conscious customers in excessive earnings international locations (Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Past and projected worth growth for one lab-grown burger patty by Mosa Meat. Mosa Meat was co-founded by Mark Post, the world’s first scientist to create a proof of idea for clear meat in 2013.

From (massive) area of interest to mass market

This drop in costs would create a multi-billion-dollar market large enough to justify buyers’ immense curiosity, however would go away the trade nonetheless too small to make the a lot wanted vital affect on the atmosphere. The sheer dimension of the world meat market ($USD 1.3 Trillion!) makes it at the moment unimaginable for a novel know-how to switch a major share of the market. Moving from a high-end area of interest to an inexpensive mass-market product is a standard phenomenon that many new applied sciences face. For occasion, the first microwaves used to value as a lot as a model new automotive

Confirming this suspicion, some of the first factories at the moment being constructed have small volumes of lower than 200 lbs of meat manufacturing per day. Many market launches are introduced for 1-3 years from now, with the caveat that regulatory approval may be delayed or that launch dates could also be additional postponed (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Many massive cultured meat firms will launch their first merchandise in the subsequent 1-3 years. However, it needs to be famous that some launch dates have been postponed in the previous.

With all this controversy about cultured meat, one factor will be mentioned: whereas its viability might stay underneath scrutiny till confirmed, nobody contests the necessity of cultured meat for animal welfare and the planet. This needs to be motivation sufficient to show critics improper.

Insa Mohr is Co-Founder of Mooji Meats – a Harvard spin-off enabling the cultured meat revolution. Before founding Mooji Meats, she labored as an Associate Director for Merck (an early mover in cultured meat). She was a visiting pupil at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and holds a grasp’s diploma in Extension Studies / Information Technologies from Harvard FAS. 

Jovana Andrejevic is a sixth-year Applied Physics Ph.D. pupil in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University.

Cover picture by MarCuesBo from pixabay.

For extra data:

  • Read this article for an outline on the benefits, progress, and science of cultured meat
  • Check out this article about the challenges of utilizing Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) for classy meat, and easy methods to overcome the use of FBS
  • If you wish to apply to be amongst the first individuals in the world to attempt lab-grown hen produced with out FBS, click on right here.

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