Jan. 20, 2010
Scientists in the Netherlands have created lab-grown pork. The Dutch labs in the In-vitro Meat Consortium, a network of publicly funded Dutch research institutions, have been fakin' bacon since 2006. They admit that the texture isn't quite right yet (currently the "meat" has the consistency and feel of scallop.) They start with pig muscle stem cells, growing the cells in a nutrient medium (here's one generic example) in the lab. They estimate it would take about 30 days to make a small pork chop.
So far their main problem is protein content--protein makes up about 99% of normal meat, but only about 80% in their lab-grown meat, which gives it a soggy, flimsy consistency. Prof. Mark Post at Eindhoven University said:
What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue. We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there."
Apparently none of the researchers have actually eaten the lab-made meat yet either, and Prof. Post said the lower protein content means it probably wouldn't taste anything like pork. For now, they hope to grow large quantities of the cells in huge bioreactors to make processed meats like minced meat, hamburgers or hot dogs. They also envision incorporating other cell types and molecules, such as omega 3 fatty acids from fish.
A recent Nature Biotechnology article noted that several groups were concentrating on production of lab-grown meat, primarily with a view toward the potential environmental benefits, with the possibility that "by 2022 consumers could be tucking into 'VatBeef' grown in a lab." PETA is also sponsoring a competition for the first success at lab-grown chicken. Supposedly the packages will be marked "incubator range" rather than free-range.