By Damien Gayle
Last updated at 2:23 PM on 17th January 2012
Scientists have figured out the riddle of growing meat in a laboratory and are now just working out how they can make it profitable, it has been claimed.
Some 30 teams around the world are working on growing meat in petri dishes, as investment and research talent is poured into a technology that could solve world hunger.
Produced in huge vats from muscle cells, the ‘meat without slaughter’ would be kinder to the environment than the real thing and reduce animal suffering.
Animal welfare group Peta have promised a $1million reward to any scientist who can prove chicken grown in a laboratory is commercially viable by 2016.
And now a string of recent developments cited by Food Safety News indicate that 2012 could be the year a breakthrough is finally made in the development of in vitro meat.
Dr Mark Post, from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, has all but promised that meat will soon be grown in his lab.
His work is funded by the Dutch government, as well as an anonymous donation of 300,000 euros, but it is not eligible for the Peta prize as he is growing beef, not chicken.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the University of Missouri was given funding to take on Nicholas Genovese to work with R. Michael Roberts, their leading expert on stem stells and livestock.
Mr Genovese has already worked with Vladimir Mironov at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Mr Mironov has taken his research to Brazil, where the government is also pursuing in vitro meat research and development.
If an industrial process can be discovered, it is hoped that it would slash the price of test tube meat to less than that of real meat.
It remains to be seen, however, whether it will find favour with a public that likes to think of its chops, steaks and sausages as having their roots in nature, rather than in test-tubes.
And with the meaty texture of muscle being the most difficult element to recreate, it is likely that the first test-tube meat dishes would mimic processed meat products like burgers and sausages.
To make the meat, scientists take muscle cells from an animal and incubate them in a protein ‘broth’.
This makes the microscopic cells multiply many times over, creating a sticky tissue with the consistency of an undercooked egg.
This ‘wasted muscle’ is then bulked up through the laboratory equivalent of exercise – it is anchored to Velcro and stretched.
Some researchers say that with the right starting material and conditions, just ten pork muscle cells could produce 50,000 tons of meat in two months.
Peta has said it decided to promote lab-grown meat because a lot of people ‘cannot kick their meat addictions’.
The group’s £1million prize will go to any researcher who can develop lab-grown chicken with the same taste and texture as the real thing, and sell at least 2,000lb of the stuff in 10 American states by early 2016.
Their evaluation process deadline is in June this year.