Five Animal Products Scientists Can Now Grow In a Lab

In early experiments, scientists are growing meat in vitro and bioengineering yeast for dairy

Lab-grown beef—it could be dinner. (© Tek Image/Science Photo Library/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

In August 2013, scientists in London prepped, cooked and tasted a hamburger in front of an expectant crowd of media and food critics. After the demonstration, the Guardian deemed the burger a milestone that could "herald a future free from needless animal suffering and polluting factory farms."

That's because this particular burger didn't come from a cow—at least not in the traditional sense. The burger, or at least the meat that made the burger, was grown in a lab, from bovine stem cells.

In vitro meat might be the most well-known example of a post-animal foodscape, but it's not the only example. Here are a few ways scientists are trying to recreate your favorite animal-based products—from milk to cheese, even leather—in a lab. 

Lab-Grown Beef

Arguably the most recognizable version of synthetically created animal products is lab-grown beef. For the meat to become a reality, it took years of research in tissue engineering by Mark Post, a biologist at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. To create the burger, Post and his colleagues used muscle stem cells from a cow, which they then bathed in a culturing solution of fetal calf serum to encourage the cells to grow and differentiate. The cells grew into veritable cow muscle cells, some 40 billion of them making 20,000 strips of meat that the biologists were abel to mold into a burger patty. The patty cost $330,000 to produce.

Some, including Post, lauded the burger as the first step toward a more sustainable future, where meat would come from labs instead of industrial meat factories and farms. That future, however, is a ways away. Post estimated that it could take up to 20 years for in vitro meat to become a commercially viable option for everyone.

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