$325,000 stem cell hamburger to be eaten soon

A proof-of-concept lab-grown hamburger is slated to be eaten soon, after many delays and $325,000 in research and development.

A lab-grown meat strip. Doesn't it look appetizing?
Mark Post

The race for a lab-grown meat alternative has been on for years. Modern Meadow, for example, has gone after a type of 3D-printed meat using bioprinting techniques. Dutch tissue engineer Mark Post is using stem cells to make a lab-grown hamburger, one that may be actually going down someone's gullet very soon.

Post's Cultured Beef Project has been in development at Maastricht University in the Netherlands for some time thanks to $325,000 in funding from an anonymous donor. Cow muscle stem cells are grown into miniscule strips of tissue. Each strip can take several weeks to grow. It takes 20,000 of these to make a single hamburger. It's a time-consuming and expensive product at this stage of the project.

The resulting burger will probably have more in common taste-wise with a patty from McDonald's than a gourmet burger from a fancy restaurant. At this point, it's not about the flavor so much as the proof that it could be created at all. Making it delicious will come later. Post has said he plans to add only salt and pepper before cooking it.

Originally, the engineered patty was scheduled to be cooked up last year, but the New York Times reports it could now happen within a few weeks.

The burger isn't exactly vegetarian-friendly just yet. The cells are grown in fetal calf serum. A non-animal-source alternative will need to be found before the lab beef could be considered kill-free. It could be years before research and funding make cultured beef a viable alternative, and that's not considering potential issues of consumer resistance to buying lab-grown meat.

Despite the time, effort, and money that has gone into creating Post's burger-of-science, I imagine people are still going to want to know first and foremost, "How does it taste? Is it better than a veggie burger?"

Meat strips
Strips of meat grow in a lab. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET