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Nuts & Bolts

August 6, 2013

Lab burger created to challenge real meat tastes more like cake

LONDON — The world's first beef burger created by stem cells tastes more like cake than steak.

The burger, fried in public in London Monday, lacks the fattiness of regular meat and tastes more like "an animal- protein cake," according to Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based author and one of two tasting volunteers.

The 5-ounce burger, which cost more than $332,000 to produce, was developed by Mark Post of Maastricht University. Google co-founder Sergey Brin funded the research. Post is among scientists including those at Modern Meadow and New Harvest who are experimenting with ways to grow meat in labs as an alternative to raising livestock, which contributes 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and uses 30 percent of the world's ice-free land, according to an Oxford University study.

"We are catering to beef eaters who want to eat beef in a sustainable way," Post said at the event in London Monday.

Schonwald, the author of a book called "The Taste of Tomorrow," said the steak lacked the fattiness of a regular burger. Hanni Ruetzler, a food scientist and the other tasting volunteer, said the surface was crunchy and the inside was "very close to meat."

Post said he's still working on the twin challenges of improving taste and growing fat. Commercial production could begin in a decade or two, according to Post, whose work on cultured beef began in 2008.

The muscle stem cells, taken by harmless biopsy from living cows, are fed and nurtured so they multiply to create muscle tissue. The cells grow into strands, and 20,000 of them get combined to create one burger. One sample of cells is enough to create up to 20,000 tons of meat in the lab, he said.

Post used fetal bovine serum, taken from the blood of calf fetuses, to multiply the cells after testing as many as 10 alternatives. Current options for nutrients, usually the most expensive part of the process, also include blue-green algae, said Neil Stephens, who studies developments in in-vitro meat research at Cardiff University's Cesagen research center and School of Social Sciences.

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