Where’s the lab beef produced in a gadget at home? On the back-burner

Promises of lab meat were overly optimistic, Discovery magazine reports (HERE).

It has revisited an article it published in 2006, when biologist Vladimir Mironov dreamed of growing lab meat in a coffee-maker-like device that could, overnight, turn a few animal muscle stem cells into a nice chunk of meat.

The muscle cells would be harmlessly extracted from an animal and – with the right nutrients and environment – would multiply just as they would in their original host, but more rapidly.

The idea was to target three issues raised by traditional meat farming – protect animals from inhumane conditions and eventual slaughter; reduce the environmental damage of large-scale livestock operations; and give humans healthier meat and better food security.

In an update published this month, the magazine reports that Mironov’s vision hasn’t changed, but he’s put the project on the back burner. His lab at the University of South Carolina shut down in 2011 due to personnel issues and now he’s concentrating on organ printing at a 3-D bioprinting company in Russia.

“Maybe I will return to the topic,” he wrote in an email. “In vitro meat production is the inescapable future of humanity.”

Mark Post, physiology chair at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, shares Mironov’s optimism about in vitro meat’s potential. But he says the future isn’t in at-home devices.

“Quite frankly, I don’t see that as a very pragmatic solution,” says Post, who debuted his lab-produced meat (cost: $325,000 per burger) in a highly publicised taste test in London in 2013.

Instead, the focus now is on ramping up efforts to produce it in factory-like settings, Post said.

Bigger production would mean more burgers for more than just a few taste testers, while also sending costs way down.

“In essence, it’s available,” Post says, “but not at the scale that you need for [mass] consumption.”

His optimistic scenario — which depends on the production infrastructure being in place and regulatory approvals — is having a $10 cell-grown hamburger patty on the shelves in four to five years.

But production must be scaled “to a tremendous level” to meet the requirements of supermarkets.

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