Agriculture has evolved in the last decade even beyond the most optimistic of projections. From Farm bots, advanced mechanization, satellite farm imaging, mobile applications, sophisticated farm managing software to genetically modified foods and organisms.
One of the most compelling new developments is cultured meat (lab grown meat), also known as clean, cell-based or slaughter-free meat. It’s grown from stem cells taken from a live animal without the need for slaughter.
Despite its relative newness, it has received support from many as the next step in food technology and a sustainable means of providing meat to the increasing world population.
In this article, we look at a process that has created a lot of buzz and it said to have Bill Gates and Richard Branson funding its development.
What is Cultured Meat?
Cultured meat (Lab grown meat) is meat produced by in-vitro cultivation of animal cells, instead of from slaughtered animals. Simply stated it is the harvesting muscle cells from a living animal.
Scientists then feed and nurture the cells, so they multiply to create muscle tissue, which is how meat grows in the body of a living animal.
In 2013, Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, was the first to showcase a proof-of-concept for cultured meat by creating the first burger patty grown directly from cells.
How it is produced
The process of making cultured meat (also known as clean meat) is like making livestock meat, except the cells grow outside the animal’s body.
The first step is to collect some cells from the muscle of an animal, such as a cow if we’re making beef, which is done with a small biopsy (removal of a tissue or a sample of cells from the body) under anaesthesia.
Muscles stem cells called “myosatellites” are taken from the body of the animal. The function of these stem cells within the animal is to create new muscle tissue when the muscle is injured. It is this inherent talent of the stem cells that is utilised in making cultured meat.
The cells are placed in a medium containing nutrient and naturally-occurring growth factors and allowed to proliferate just as they would inside the animal. They proliferate until trillions of cells are gotten from a small sample. This growth takes place in a bioreactor, which looks like the bioreactors that beer and yoghurt are fermented in.
The cells differentiate into muscle cells when the feeding of growth factors is discontinued, and they differentiate on their own. The muscle cells naturally merge to form “myotubes” (a primitive muscle fibre that is no longer than 0.3mm long).
The myotubes are then placed in a gel that is 99% water, which helps the cells form the shape of muscle fibres.
When all these strands are layered together, meat is gotten. The meat is then processed using standard food technologies.
1. It requires almost 99% less space than what is needed for current livestock farming methods according to a research by Oxford university.
2. It would lead to the reduction of the use of antibiotics in animal farming which leads to antibiotic resistance.
3. Environmental impacts (greenhouse gas emissions) is significantly lower compared to modern animal farming.
4. It is animal friendly as no animal is injured or slaughtered.
5. Doing away with slaughterhouses could reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses, as well as diseases transmitted between live animals and humans.
1. It offers a potential for job loss if accepted commercially as animal farming is a major source of livelihood and employment in the world.
2. Its unnatural form of production is a major concern to consumers.
3. With the flavour of Cultured meats unknown, taste can be an issue.
4. It could potentially be costlier than traditional meat.
Although it hasn’t been produced commercially yet, plans are ongoing to ensure it is released into the market in 2021.
Do you think Cultured Meat will replace the traditional meat production? Will you eat a Cultured Meat? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.