Test tube meat what will we eat in the future

(ORDO NEWS) — In 1931, Winston Churchill published an article in the Strand magazine called “Fifty Years Later”, which contained a curious prediction: “We will not absurdly raise a whole chicken to eat a breast or a wing, but we will grow these parts separately in a suitable environment.”

Even now, these words sound like something on the verge of science fiction, but although the famous Briton got a little wrong with the timing, the revolution in the food industry is happening before our eyes.

Prerequisites for the emergence of artificial meat

In the 19th century, the industrial revolution became a powerful impetus for the transformation of agriculture.

In order to provide food for the rapidly growing population of cities, farmers had to change the basic principles of work; this is how the “Second Agrarian Revolution” took place, which affected, among other things, animal husbandry.

Since then, technology has constantly evolved: breeders have bred new breeds of livestock, ways of preparing feed have changed, and veterinary standards have been introduced. And yet, despite the sharp increase in the number of people on the planet, fundamentally new methods had to wait quite a long time.

The potential of “classical” animal husbandry has a number of limitations for natural reasons. The main way to scale up production, especially in the case of cattle, until recently was to increase the area of ​​pastures, although over the past 20 years the situation has changed towards a slight decrease.

According to the UN, about two-thirds of the available land is currently used in beef and dairy farming.

At the same time, the burden is increasing: if in 1961 there were 0.45 hectares of agricultural land per person, then in 2016 – only 0.21 . In addition, beef and dairy farming creates a number of intractable problems, such as environmental pollution and huge consumption of land and water resources.

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Over the past 30 years, meat consumption in the world has more than doubled, to 324 million tons per year. The above factors force scientists and researchers to look for alternative ways to obtain products.

What is artificial meat

This term means completely different products, but is it right to call all of them artificial meat? Recently, “alternative meat” made from vegetable proteins or mushrooms has become very popular.

There are also exotic options, for example, from insects. Nevertheless, it would be more correct to call this category an imitation, since they are radically different from the “real” in their composition.

Another specific category is meat obtained from genetically modified and cloned organisms. With this method, you can get the ideal number of livestock, from the point of view of animal husbandry, but the final product will still be created by the “traditional” method with its attendant problems.

Finally, we come to the last category, which will be discussed – cultured meat. First of all, it is interesting in that it is devoid of the disadvantages of the two options listed above – the final product is meat, but pastures, feed and antibiotics are not needed, and the participation of the animal is limited to a painless procedure.

How to grow meat in a test tube

Today, there are more than 70 start-ups involved in the cultivation of meat with the support of venture capital funds and large technology companies.

– Their approaches to production may differ, but they are united by a single concept – the use of artificially grown cellular structures of animal origin.

– The animal painlessly takes a biopsy of skeletal muscles, which will become the basis of future meat.

– Stem cells are extracted that can multiply and transform into other types – muscle and adipose tissue.

– The resulting culture is placed in a bioreactor and replicated in a special medium. At the end of this stage, trillions of cells are obtained.

A bioreactor is a device that resembles a large vat, in which, with the help of mixing, optimal conditions are created for the life and reproduction of cells.

– The necessary biomass has already been obtained, but these are undifferentiated cells that must “decide” on their purpose. For this, growth factors are stopped, after which the process of differentiation begins. Cells are placed on rounded columns, begin to contract and gain volume. Thus, muscle and adipose tissue is obtained – what we call meat.

The creators of artificial meat were able to achieve great success from a gastronomic point of view. There are opportunities to grow beef, chicken, pork, as well as fish and even seafood.

Technology makes it possible to produce the most exotic products. Of course, there are limitations: minced meat and fillets are already almost indistinguishable from the originals, but making barbecue ribs will be more difficult.

As a science and technology company and supplier to the biopharmaceutical industry, helping Merck start-ups in cultured meat has been a promising area of ​​work since the industry’s inception. This is supported by extensive experience in the development of cell culture media and the production of equipment such as bioreactors.

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Advantages and disadvantages

Cultured meat has a number of benefits. From an environmental point of view, the advantages are obvious: with full-fledged industrial production, the greenhouse effect can be reduced by 92% compared to the traditional process, and the efficiency of land use increases by 95%.

The amount of clean water consumed is reduced by 78% and pollution of the ecosystem by up to 93%. Test-tube meat is free from other disadvantages, for example, it is completely free of pathogens such as salmonella and e. coli.

The complete absence of antibiotics is also very important – this is especially important given the fact that animal husbandry is one of the sources of antibiotic resistance.

The disadvantages of such meat are primarily associated with insufficient development of technology at the industrial level.

A lot of work remains to be done on the selection of growth medium formulas (up to 100 different ingredients) and the development of special tissue scaffolds to support cell growth. In addition, today’s bioreactors are designed more for experiments, so the equipment will need to be finalized for commercialization.

On the other hand, increased process requirements and the need for complex supply chains make it difficult to deploy industrial cultivation lines in emerging economies, where hunger is often acute. In addition, there is a problem of perception – the unusual origin of a product can scare off consumers, even despite the obvious advantages.

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The future of test tube meat 

At the moment, the process of growing artificial meat is rather experimental – despite the obvious progress, there is no talk of industrial scale yet.

In 2013, the cost of the first cultured burger was $250,000. According to forecasts, by 2030, the cost of a whole kilogram of artificial beef will be only $6.5. In 2020, test-tube chicken first appeared on the menu of a restaurant in Singapore, where it received official government approval.

In the near future, meat from a test tube will not replace traditional animal husbandry for many reasons – for this it is necessary to solve many problems: complete debugging of technologies, cost reduction, increase in production volumes.

After regulatory issues are resolved and large-scale production is established, cellular “livestock” will initially exist in parallel with the usual one, fulfilling the tasks of meeting demand.

There is reason to believe that, over time, cultured meat will begin to replace traditional meat through increased consumer confidence, more economical use of resources, and competitive advantages such as price and fewer restrictions on scaling.

However, even after this, traditional animal husbandry will not disappear, but will move into the premium segment and remain with private households.

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