How realistic is "test tube beef" production.

All the network news shows ran a cute story this week about somebody growing beef in the lab. Then the happy-chat teams would mug about how bad it would taste, and they did strange interviews on cattle ranches to try to coax an opinion out of ranchers, without much luck.
So, is it something that they are serious about, or just a publicity stunt by some lab wanting a little press?
Is there any real scientific or economic contest to do this?

I’m kind of curious, because I have a lifelong wish we didn’t kill so many animals.
I remember when my father-in-law, a farmer, heard I didn’t eat meat. I said maybe I would if it could be grown without killing animals, in greenhouses by hydroponics or someting. He was SO shocked! Stunned, really. It was like I had suggested devil worship. To him, killing animals was not only justified, but sacred, man’s divine instructions. And he had bible quotes to prove it. Turns out he’d attacked vegetarianism before in the farmers’ journal.

But anyway, since childhood I’d had this idea that someday someone would combine say yeast and beef cells and create meat protein the easy way, letting dough rise.

Actually this is about how I feel about it, it is a anchite rite, a reason to give thanks and a celebration of the cycle of life (which includes death, but a death that creates and substains life). I personally feel that there is more ‘life energy’ in animals then plants therefore it is more desirable to consume meat - but don’t ask me to define life energy.

I think we would loose a very precious part of our humanity if we so remove ourselves from the cycle of life and learn to produce ‘artificial’ meat.

Just a reminder, this is GQ. The General Question here is whether this is feasible. We could probably have a good discussion of whether this is ethical or desireable, but such discussion would belong in Great Debates. So for here, let’s stick to the feasibility.

Well, I would sort of wonder about the texture. I have read a few of the articles about it, and it got me to thinking …

Veal from a restrained calf has a particular flavor and texture that is absent from a veal that is not restrained in any way and has a more natural diet … I know that my own turkeys and chickens have a very different texture and richer taste than the battery raised birds.

From what I have read about one of the processes, the cells are grown in a flat sheet, which then has to be stacked or rolled to make it a bundle of muscle fibers. I am not sure you could exercise the fibers or even control the diet to affect the flavor and texture, so perhaps it would only be good for something like ground meat/sausagemaking instead of nice fake steaks.

It is something that interests me =) especially if they could do a really good lobster, a really good ‘cod’ fillet, and perhaps jumbo prawns … as cod and lobster are dwindling, and the really great 8-16 count shrimp/prawns are so dang expensive.

I like surimi [sea legs] just fine, and would probably eat the beef even if it only came out like that thin shaved beef like for philly cheesesteaks in the form of my philly cheesesteak meat beef stroganoff.

I’ve given this some idle thought before, and I run up against a few simple barriers:

  1. Texture. You probably could get past this, but it’d take a lot of extra work. (I imagine little disembodied muscles with electrodes, pumping away.) So it’s more likely you’ll make meat-protein slurry.

  2. Input. Your artificial meat plant most likely won’t be able to create meat from grass and grain. You’ll have to feed it on refined nutrients, making a costly product even costlier.

  3. Why? Are people opposed to the meat industry, or opposed to killing of animals for food, that desperate for the taste of meat? Well, maybe we can genetically engineer som meat flavoured egg plants. I think that’s a more likely approach. (Although it might be impossible.)

But that would be huge in itself if people could be persuaded to eat it. ‘Grown’ sausages, pies, burgers, chilli, whatever. And you’d still have real steaks, roasts, etc. No whatever what level the technology gets to some people will always demand ‘The Real Thing’, but that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way things are.

Grown fake meat could reduce demands on space and raw materials currently used for cattle farming and also opens up the possibility of provide food in areas where it is difficult to farm cattle. Add to that the fact that it should be disease free.

As I understand it the texture is the main problem and various people are exploring ‘knitting’ different things together with different results.

If you can grow the various different cells involved then there’s no reason you shouldn’t eventually be able to create properly textured meat. I’d imagine you could fake ‘exercised’ muscles and different diets with various treatments.

For what it’s worth I’ve never heard about people trying this with seafood, which would make a lot more sense in some respects.

Whilst I don’t think you’ll see a home-appliance SteakMaker ™ for a while I do expect to see some sort of artificial mince / meat product in stores in the next decade. I should note I have no particular expertise in the area, that’s just my opinion.


No, but maybe you could start one. A prize, like that multimillion dollar prize they gave for the first private space flight.

Actually, though I think there is plenty of competition to make plants produce more protein, and more complete protein. They are trying to feed all of asia with just rice, which is natually incomplete protein source. Add some bean DNA, though, and you could get a single meat-substitute grain.

As far as I know, not as such. However, if you think about it, much of the research into cloning tissue and organs for transplant could be used for this purpose instead. If we can learn to grow a hand or heart someday, why not a slab of beef or chicken legs without a chicken ?

Actually, I remember reading an article a few years ago in which one group did indeed create a vat-grown fish filet. I’ll see if I can turn up the article.