In vitro meat: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In vitro meat, also known as cultured meat, is animal flesh that has never been part of a complete, living animal. Several current research projects are growing in vitro meat experimentally, although no meat has yet been produced for public consumption.[1] The first generation products will most likely be minced meat, and a long-term goal is to grow fully developed muscle tissue. Potentially, any animal's muscle tissue could be grown through the in vitro process.

A few scientists claim that this technology is ready for commercial use and simply needs a company to back it.[2] It is anticipated that cultured meat will be nearly twice as expensive as conventionally produced meat.[3][4]

In vitro meat should not be confused with imitation meat, which is vegetarian food product produced from vegetable protein, usually from soy or gluten. The terms "synthetic meat" and "artificial meat" may refer to either. In vitro meat has also been described, somewhat derisively, as "laboratory-grown" meat.


The process

Meat is animal muscle. The process of developing in vitro meat involves taking muscle cells and applying a protein that helps the cells to grow into large portions of meat.[1] Once the initial cells have been obtained, additional animals would not be needed - akin to the production of yogurt cultures.[5]

There are, loosely, two approaches for production of in vitro meat: loose muscle cells and structured muscle, the latter one being vastly more challenging than the former.[citation needed] Muscles consist of muscle fibers, long cells with multiple nuclei. They don't proliferate by themselves, but arise when precursor cells fuse. Precursor cells can be embryonic stem cells or satellite cells, specialized stem cells in muscle tissue. Theoretically, it is relatively simple to culture them in a bioreactor and then make them fuse. For the growth of real muscle, however, the cells should grow "on the spot," which requires a perfusion system akin to a blood supply to deliver nutrients and oxygen close to the growing cells, as well as to remove the waste products. In addition, other cell types, such as adipocytes, need to be grown, and chemical messengers should provide clues to the growing tissue about the structure. Lastly, muscle tissue needs to be physically stretched or "exercised" to properly develop.[1]

In 2001, dermatologist Wiete Westerhof from the University of Amsterdam, medical doctor Willem van Eelen, and businessman Willem van Kooten announced that they had filed for a worldwide patent on a process to produce in vitro meat.[6] In the process, a matrix of collagen is seeded with muscle cells, which are then bathed in a nutritious solution and induced to divide. Jon F. Vein of the United States has also secured a patent (U.S. Patent 6,835,390) for the production of tissue-engineered meat for human consumption, wherein muscle and fat cells would be grown in an integrated fashion to create food products such as beef, poultry and fish.[7] Van Eelen said that he had thought of the idea of in vitro meat for years, since he was held in a Japanese POW camp.[8] Scientists in Amsterdam study the culture medium, while the University of Utrecht studies the proliferation of muscle cells, and the Eindhoven University of Technology is researching bioreactors.[8]

In vitro meat does not necessarily involve genetic engineering, a common misconception. In fact, the cells involved are natural cells which would grow in the normal method.[1]


Modern research into in vitro meat arose out of experiments conducted by NASA, attempting to find improved forms of long-term food for astronauts in space.[9] The technique was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995,[10] and NASA has been conducting experiments since 2001, producing in vitro meat from turkey cells.[11][12] The first edible form was produced by the NSR/Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium in 2000: goldfish cells grown to resemble fish fillets.[1][3][13]

The first peer-reviewed journal article published on the subject of laboratory-grown meat appeared in a 2005 issue of Tissue Engineering.[9] Of course, the basic concept dates back further. Winston Churchill said in the 1930s, "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."[11]

In 2008, PETA offered a $1 million prize to the first company that brings lab-grown chicken meat to consumers by 2012.[2] The Dutch government has put US$4 million into experiments into in vitro meat.[11] The In Vitro Meat Consortium, a group formed by international researchers interested in the technology, held the first international conference on the production of in vitro meat, hosted by the Food Research Institute of Norway in April 2008, to discuss commercial possibilities.[1]

In November 2009, scientists from the Netherlands announced they had managed to grow meat in the laboratory using the cells from a live pig.[14]

Differences from conventional meat



In vitro meat requires artificial growth hormones to be added to the culture for meat production,[15] which is not necessary in conventional meat production. No procedure has been presented to produce in vitro meat without the use of antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections.

Researchers have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could be added to in-vitro meat as a health bonus.[11] In a similar way, the omega-3 fatty acid content of conventional meat can also be increased by altering what the animals are fed.[16] Time Magazine has suggested that the in-vitro process may also decrease exposure of the meat to bacteria and disease.[1]

However, it is possible that the first generation of this kind of meat might be of lesser quality than traditionally produced meat, and that health risks are not yet fully investigated. This question is one of the main focuses of scientists working on in vitro meat, and the aim is to produce healthier meat than conventional meat, most notably by reducing its fat content and controlling nutrients. For example, most meats produced by conventional methods are high in saturated fat. This can cause high cholesterol and other health problems like heart disease and obesity.


Although in vitro meat consists of natural meat cells, consumers may find such a high-technology approach to food production distasteful. Foodies in particular find the traditional approach to meal preparing to be increasingly acceptable out of concern that high-technology in the kitchen might lead to a lack of proper taste.

If in vitro meat turns out to be different in appearance, taste, smell, texture, or other factors, it may not be commercially competitive with conventionally produced meat. The lack of fat and bone may also be a disadvantage, for these parts make appreciable culinary contributions. Many food items, such as surimi, designed to substitute for other ingredients (for reasons from morality to expense) have become independently sought out for their own properties.[17]


The patent holder for in-vitro meat says that it will produce fewer greenhouse gasses than conventional meat production,[8] and journalist Brendan I. Koerner has argued that in-vitro meat production might require fewer resources and produce less waste.[18] Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists disagrees with these conjectures, and thinks that the energy and fossil fuel requirements of large scale in-vitro meat production in a factory make it more environmentally destructive than producing food off the land.[2]

Economic differences

The production of in-vitro meat is currently very expensive (about US$1 million for a 250 g piece of beef[1]) and it would take considerable investment to switch to large scale production. However, the In-Vitro Meat Consortium has estimated that with improvements to current technology it would be possible to reduce the cost of in-vitro meat to only twice the cost of unsubsidized conventional meat [19].

Ethical considerations

Animal welfare groups are in favour of the production of in vitro meat because it does not have a nervous system and therefore cannot feel pain.[2] [5][20]

Potential usage

The original NASA research on in vitro meat was intended for use on long space voyages or stays; it would be a sustainable food source alongside hydroponic vegetables. It may also be useful during the colonization of extreme environments where food is scarce, such as Antarctica.



Little research has been made on the subject of in vitro meat, although the science for it exists already and is simultaneously being developed for purposes of helping those with muscular dystrophy and growing transplant organs.[11][20] There are several obstacles to overcome if it has any chance of succeeding; at the moment, the most notable ones are scale and cost.[1][11]

  • Proliferation of muscle cells: Although it is not very difficult to make stem cells divide, for meat production it is necessary that they divide at a quick pace, producing the solid meat.[20] This requirement has some overlap with the medical branch of tissue engineering.
  • Culture medium: Proliferating cells need a food source to grow and develop. The growth medium should be a well-balanced mixture of ingredients and growth factors. Depending on the motives of the researchers, the growth medium has additional requirements.
    • Commercial: The growth medium should be inexpensive to produce. A plant-based medium may be less expensive than fetal bovine serum.[20]
    • Environmental: The production of the growth medium shouldn't have a negative effect on the environment. This means that the production should be energetically favorable. Additionally, the ingredients should come from completely renewable sources. Minerals from mined sources are in this case not possible, nor are synthetically produced nutrients which use non-renewable sources.
    • Animal welfare: The growth medium should be devoid of animal sources (except for the initial "mining" of the original stem cells).[20]
  • Bioreactors: Nutrients and oxygen need to be delivered close to each growing cell, on the scale of millimeters. In animals this job is handled by blood vessels. A bioreactor should emulate this function in an efficient manner. The usual approach is the creation of a sponge-like matrix in which the cells can grow, and perfusing it with the growth medium.


Probably the first research into in vitro meat was performed by M. A. Benjaminson from Touro College. His research group managed to grow muscle tissue from goldfish in a laboratory setting with several kinds of growth media.

In 2004, a group of researchers started the non-profit organization New Harvest, with the goal of promoting research into in vitro meat. Among the founders are Jason Matheny[11] and Vladimir Mironov. According to their website, cultured meat in a processed form, like sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets, may become commercially available within several years. One of the first places of businesses to accept this in vitro meat would be fast food restaurants. Since they do not disclose which farmer or rancher provided them with food, in vitro meat in fast food restaurant is often seen as an inevitable advancement.

In April 2005, a research project into cultured meat started in The Netherlands, and in 2008, it was reported that most research into in vitro meat is being conducted by Dutch scientific teams.[20] The research is carried out under the lead of Henk Haagsman, a meat science researcher at the University of Amsterdam, the Eindhoven University of Technology and Utrecht University, in cooperation with sausage manufacturer Stegeman. The Dutch government granted a two million euro subsidy for the project.[8]

On April 21, 2008, PETA announced a $1 million X-Prize style reward for the first group to successfully produce synthetic meat that is comparable to and commercially viable against naturally sourced meat products. PETA said that the number was derived from the same number of chickens killed for food per hour in the United States, one million.[21]

In fiction

  • In Two Planets (original German title: Auf Zwei Planeten) (1897) by Kurd Lasswitz, "synthetic meat" is one of the varieties of synthetic food introduced on Earth by the Martians.
  • In Illegal Alien (1997) by Robert J. Sawyer, the monofilament used to cut artificial meat is a suspected murder weapon.
  • In the book Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson, artificial meat, called vatgrown flesh, is mentioned as food sold in stores, cheaper than meat from living animals.
  • In The Space Merchants (1952) by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, artificial meat is grown in huge lumps tens of metres in diameter, workmen walking on top of it harvesting slices with big knives.
  • In the Terro-Human Future History stories (1952–84) by H. Beam Piper, "carniculture vats" were a common source of meat for food, even though livestock was raised for meat on worlds with appropriate biospheres. Several of Piper's protagonists (such as Lucas Trask in Space Viking) found "vat-grown" meat acceptable, but considered the "real thing" more palatable.
  • In Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) by Samuel R. Delany, the main character's society uses vat-grown meat cultured from humans as the primary protein source. Interaction between this society and societies using 'natural' meat are (briefly) explored.
  • Claude Zidi's 1976 comedy film L'aile ou la cuisse starring Louis de Funès as top-notch gourmet and Julien Guiomar as the infamous Tricatel who secretly produces artificial food.
  • In Assimilating our Culture, That's What they're Doing!, one of Larry Niven's short stories set in the Draco Tavern, a man who visits the tavern is depressed by the fact that he has licensed his own genome to an alien race, who are mass-producing headless clones of him for the meat market on their home planet.
  • Two Bob the Angry Flower comic strips, The Vegetarian's Dilemma and Meat Sheets, touch on points relating to artificially produced meat.
  • In the short story collection "The State of the Art" by Iain M. Banks, one of the stories includes a party where the main course is vat grown meat from cells of notable human villains and megalomaniacs, with "stewed Idi Amin" and "Richard Nixon Burgers" among others.
  • In Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, 'Chicky Knobs' were chickens with only a mouth and a digestive tract that were genetically engineered for meat products.
  • Although not called "in vitro meat", the creation of zombification in the Xbox 360 game Dead Rising was the result of US scientists trying to mass produce meat for consumption. The engineered wasps that were to facilitate this escaped from the Santa Cabeza complex and "zombified" the populace, resulting in military intervention. Two of the survivors of that incident, Carlito and Isabella Keyes, started a new outbreak in the Southwest town of Willamette in revenge, where the game takes place.
  • A popular urban legend describes a genetically engineered vat-grown creature, dubbed "Animal 57", as the source of meat for various fast-food chains.
  • In Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy almost all of the meat was tank grown, including human meat.
  • Meat on Star Trek is created by devices called replicators.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Siegelbaum, D.J. (2008-04-23). "In Search of a Test-Tube Hamburger". Time.,8599,1734630,00.html?imw=Y. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  2. ^ a b c d Levine, Ketzel (2008-05-20), Lab-Grown Meat a Reality, But Who Will Eat It?, National Public Radio,, retrieved 2010-01-10 
  3. ^ a b Temple, James (2009-02-23). "The Future of Food: The No-kill Carnivore". Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  4. ^ Preliminary Economics Study of Cultured Meat, eXmoor Pharma Concepts, 2008
  5. ^ a b Raizel, Robin (2005-12-11). "In Vitro Meat". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  6. ^ van Eelen, Willem Frederik; Willem Jan van Kooten & Wiete Westerhof, "INDUSTRIAL SCALE PRODUCTION OF MEAT FROM IN VITRO CELL CULTURES", WO9931222 A1 Application WO9931222, published 1999-06-24
  7. ^ Vein, Jon, "Method for producing tissue engineered meat for consumption", US B1 6835390, published 2001-11-16, issued 2004-12-28
  8. ^ a b c d "Patent holder Willem van Eelen: ‘In another five years meat will come out of the factory’". inVitroMeat Foundation, operated by Willem van Eelen, publishing what appears to be an English translation of an article in Dutch by Anouck Vrouwe (subscribers only) from Het Financieele Dagblad. 2007-12-12. 
  9. ^ a b University of Maryland (2005-07-06). "Paper Says Edible Meat Can be Grown in a Lab on Industrial Scale". Press release. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  10. ^ "Catachem, Inc Announces FDA Approval of UIBC In-Vitro Diagnostic (IVD) Chemistry Reagent Kit". BioPortfolio, verbatim, paid reprint of Catachem press release. 1995-02-21. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Macintyre, Ben (2007-01-20). "Test-tube meat science's next leap". The Australian.,20867,21086167-23289,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-30. 
  12. ^ Webb, Sarah (2006-01-08). "Tissue Engineers Cook Up Plan for Lab-Grown Meat (The Year in Science: Technology)". Discover. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  13. ^ Benjaminson, Morris (2001-12-05). "Featured Research at Touro: Growing Fish Fillets Outside the Fish". Touro College School of Health Sciences. Retrieved 2010-01-10.  Advance announcement of paper's publication in Acta Astronautica (not found there, but note Journal articles below).
  14. ^ Rogers, Lois (2009-11-29). "Scientists grow pork meat in a laboratory". The Sunday Times. 
  15. ^ Edelman, P. D, D. C. McFarland, V. A. Mironov, and J. G. Matheny. 2005. In vitro-cultured meat production. Tissue Engineering 11(5-6): 659-662.
  16. ^ Azcona, J.O., Schang, M.J., Garcia, P.T., Gallinger, C., R. Ayerza (h), and Coates, W. (2008). "Omega-3 enriched broiler meat: The influence of dietary alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acid sources on growth, performance and meat fatty acid composition". Canadian Journal of Animal Science, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 88:257-269
  17. ^ Pigott, George M.; Tucker, Barbee W. (1990). Seafood. CRC Press. p. 236. ISBN 0824779223. 
  18. ^ Koerner, Brendan I. (2008-05-20). "Will Lab-Grown Meat Save the Planet? Or is it only good for cows and pigs?". Slate. 
  19. ^ Preliminary Economics Study of Cultured Meat, eXmoor Pharma Concepts, 2008
  20. ^ a b c d e f Kruglinski, Susan; Wright, Karen (2008-09-22). "I'll Have My Burger Petri-Dish Bred, With Extra Omega-3". Discover. 
  21. ^ "The PETA Files - Lab Meat: Tastes Like a Million Bucks". PETA. 2008-04-21. 

External links


  • Patent WO9931222 Industrial Scale Production of Meat from in vitro Cell Cultures
  • Patent 20060029922 Industrial production of meat - A meat product containing in vitro produced animal cells in a three-dimensional form and a method for producing the meat product

News coverage

Journal articles


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