Meat grown in a test tube could radically change our food system. By sating the world’s growing appetite for animal flesh without the massive health and environmental downsides of factory farms, we could have our burger and eat it too.
In 2013, when scientists debuted the world’s first “in vitro” burger, the dream seemed a long ways off. The burger they had created from 20,000 strips of lab-grown muscle tissue cost $325,000 to make.
But don’t discount the pace of progress. Earlier this year, Mark Post, the researcher at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who led the work, announced that the team had brought the price down to a mere $11 per burger. But even then, Post told ABC that it would still be another 20 to 30 years before the process is commercially viable.
Now the estimates are more rosy. According to the BBC, the team is forming a spin-off company, called Mosa Meat, and now thinks it can have lab-grown burgers on the market within five years. The burgers would be available for specialty sales, though it still might be awhile before they are available in supermarkets. (Which may account for some of the timeline discrepancy.)
The burgers are made from cells harvested from a live cow and then grown in a lab into muscle tissue. The biggest hurdles are scaling up production beyond the lab and coming up with a method that doesn’t involve using fetal calf serum to grow the muscle cells, as Co.Exist wrote in April. To make it taste just like a regular burger–unlike the 2013 prototype–they’ll have to go beyond muscle fiber and add “blood” and “connective tissue.”
The new spin-off will be escalating commercial development efforts with a team of 25 scientists, the BBC reports. It’ll also look into the possibility of going beyond burgers into using 3-D printing to create chops or steak, a more difficult challenge to pull off.