Dutch scientists have used stem cells to create strips of muscle tissue with which they say they will be able to produce the first lab-grown "hamburger" by the end of the year, BBC News reports.
Their goal is to find a more efficient (and cruelty-free) way to produce meat than rearing animals. At a science meeting in Canada, Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands said lab-grown meat could reduce the environmental footprint of meat by up to 60%.
Post and his team have grown little chunks of muscle that are off-white and look kind of like calamari. The pieces will be mixed with blood and artificially grown fat to produce a "hamburger." Sounds absolutely delicious.
"In the beginning it will taste bland. I think we will need to work on the flavor," Post admitted to BBC News. "The reason we are doing this is not to show a viable product but to show that in reality we can do this. From then on, we need to spend a whole lot of work and money to make the process efficient and then cost-effective." (This advance could give the term "mystery meat" a whole new meaning to junior high kids.)
Food scientists believe that current methods of food production are unsustainable. Some estimate that food production will have to double in the next 50 years to meet the demands of the growing population. Adding to that challenge are things like climate change, water shortages, a lack of arable land and greater urbanization. "Demand for meat will increase at a time when it will be harder than ever for farmers to boost production," BBC News says.
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Lab-grown meat eventually could become more efficient than producing meat from animals, Post said, reducing the number of animals that are factory farmed and slaughtered. As for the lack of flavor in the lab-created meat, he told BBC News: ""I think we will need to work on the flavor separately by trying to figure out which components of the meat actually produce the taste and analyze what the composition of the strip is and whether we can change that."
Molecular biologist David Steele, president of Earthsave Canada, told the BBC the same benefits could be achieved if people just ate less meat. He said he also was concerned that high levels of antibiotics and antifungal chemicals would need to be added to lab-grown meat to keep it from rotting.
All things considered, we'll take a boca burger.
Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.