How does the prospect of tucking into tissue-engineered skeletal muscle take you?
Hmm, thought not. But if researcher Mark Post has anything to do with it then laboratory-grown meat will be coming to a plate near you.
Post is the Professor of Vascular Physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and is an expert in tissue engineering.
He believes that within our lifetimes we’ll be consuming meat that comes from a petri dish rather than from an animal.
The idea that people will never adopt in-vitro meat, that there is a natural aversion, can be overcome, he believes, by getting good information into the public domain.
It’s why he was at the IQ2 “If” Conference at the Royal Geographical Society last week, explaining that he thinks that lab-grown meat will be part of all our futures.
He starts with the principal that animals are very inefficient at converting vegetable protein to animal protein and that the World Health Organisation expects meat consumption to double by 2050.
Since we’re already using 70% of our arable lands for meat production, we’re heading down an unsustainable track, he argues.
Factor in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and he believes lab meat, which, he says, can be produced using less land, less water and less energy, has real benefits.
Post uses stem cell muscle from an animal to start the process in the lab: “We can make strips of muscle out of this and it starts to move – we can electrically stimulate it and it starts to move even more vigorously.
“We start with these very simple strips of scaffold and we grow skeletal muscle on those strips so we can get a 3D structure.
“Of course this doesn’t come for free. You need to add sugars and proteins and fatty acids, but the thing is you can play with it and make it much more efficient than a cow or a pig can do.”
Post also sees the potential to tweak the feeding of the cells to create a healthier product but it’s clear he still has a long way to go and the barrier to uptake isn’t just consumer acceptance.
Taste, texture and protein content are just some of the practical issues he has to overcome if the idea is ever to become a reality.