If you haven’t been reading the news lately, you may have missed the hoopla surrounding the consumption of the world’s first lab-grown beef burger. Basically, scientists have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and years to culture what is apparently a fairly bland burger (not enough fat, I presume).
The science behind cell culture and tissue engineering is amazing. Scientists have thus far been able to grow a trachea, bladders, and skin (by the way, that’s where all those leftover baby foreskins go). Personally, I have worked in a tissue engineering lab and it’s fun to culture cells and watch them grow (my little babies!), but for some reason I can’t get psyched up about this lab-grown burger.
Actually, there are many reasons:
- This burger is not (currently) an acceptable substitute for regular (meat-typical?) burgers. We already have plentiful protein sources for people who either don’t have access to meat or choose not to eat it. Bugs are a fantastic source of protein, as are beans. I get that some people would rather eat a burger than a crispy bug, but I don’t see lab-burgers being a reality in 10-20 years, as the head scientist is predicting.
- Lab-grown meat is (currently) not “cruelty-free.” In order to grow cells, you need to give them nutrients, and it turns out that a great source of nutrients is fetal bovine serum (harvested from the slaughterhouse). So, if you’re the kind of person who would welcome lab-grown meat because it doesn’t involve killing an animal, you may be shocked to realize it was soaked in serum from a cow fetus. (Disclaimer: I am a meat-eater, so I’m not judging anyone who eats meat.) There are substitutes for FBS but that is a whole other debate.
- The idea of eating a piece of muscle grown in a lab squicks me out way more than eating a regular burger. I don’t know why–maybe it’s just the idea of it? Maybe it’s the fact that I work in a lab and I handle cell culture media? Who knows. All I know is that the high-res photos of the cultured burger gives me the butt-willies (you know what that is, admit it).
Here is another excellent article about the flaws of lab-grown meat, written by another scientist who has done cell culture and understands its limitations.
So, on to the Inquisition part of this post. What are your thoughts on lab grown meat? Are you excited or skeptical about the meat-of-the-future claims? Are you grossed at the thought of eating this burger? Did you just now find out that cell culture involves using the blood of unborn calves?
I know we have some scientists in the audience so I would like to hear your opinion of this as well!
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm (ish) ET.