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Burger made in test-tube set to 'meat' the demand

burger022212_optBY PAM LOBLEY
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
NOW THAT'S FUNNY

Scientists in the Netherlands are working to make the first burger created entirely in the laboratory. The test-tube burger should be ready to eat in October, and the hope is that it will look, feel and maybe even taste like a regular quarter-pounder.

Wait … does that mean quarter-pounders are real meat? I hadn’t realized that.

Professor Mark Post at Maastricht University has says that the demand for meat is growing so great worldwide that it is time to seriously pursue alternatives. “If you don’t do anything, meat will become a luxury food and be very, very expensive.”

If you’ve been to Shoprite lately, you might think that time has already arrived.

So far, though, the real is still cheaper. The cost to produce this one burger is about $330,000. That’s understandable for a prototype, and Professor Post hopes that one day the lab meat will be able to be reproduced easily so that everyone can afford it.

The fake burger project is being funded by an anonymous donor, and Mr. Post has spent six years figuring out how to grow beef from stem cells. First he grew a mouse burger in a dish and then was able to grow pork into rubbery strips resembling squid, and then he was ready to try beef.

The process now is four steps: first the stem cells are stripped from the beef muscle. Then they are incubated in a nutrient broth which turns them into a sticky tissue like uncooked egg. Next they are anchored to Velcro (what?) and stretched. Finally, the stretched strips are minced and combined with lab-grown animal fat and formed into a burger.

Dang! I’m salivating already!

The beef is still “pinkish to yellow” in color, but Professor Post expects to have achieved the appropriate burger color by the fall.

Would ya like fries with that?

Sci-fi food is not that new. According to The Telegraph, 20 years ago scientists tried to create a super-nutritious rice that would help alleviate the Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. It encountered opposition from groups (the regular rice lobby?), and I can imagine the same thing happening in this case.

The cattle farmers have good reasons to protest the test-tube meat. But will they be able to stand up to the powerful Velcro lobby, which sees an expanse of their business far beyond that which they had ever dreamed?

Many positive reasons are cited for pursuing the lab-grown meat: one cow could make millions more burgers than if it were simply slaughtered for its meat. Fewer cows could mean less negative impact on the environment, and the test-tube meat could even be laced with healthy fats or other extra nutrients.

Whatever. Would we really eat this stuff? Scientists are in a real pickle about it.

Pam Lobley writes the “Now That’s Funny” column. Follow her on twitter @plobley.

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