It looks like a pink rice noodle. But by smushing together 20,000 of these thin strips of lab-grown muscle tissue, researcher Dr. Mark Post is, in effect, growing five ounces of hamburgers fit for human consumption.
Given that they’re devoid of fat (growing beautiful, marbled steak is a far grander challenge), they’ll certainly taste a bit lean. And given that the strips are so thin, the texture will be unlike any burger we’ve eaten before (not that most of us will get the chance to sample the $325,000 burgers for some time). But they will prove a long-considered concept—that lab-grown meat is a viable possibility for consumption. So the only looming question remains, can you sell the public on the idea? It doesn’t seem that even the synthetic meat industry is convinced of that yet. From the NYT:
Gabor Forgacs, a researcher at the University of Missouri and a founder of Modern Meadow, a start-up company that wants to develop and market cultured meat, is aware of the hurdles as well. "Getting cultured meat to the supermarket is going to be difficult, and controversial," said Dr. Forgacs, whose approach to cultured meat has some similarities to Dr. Post’s, although he has also developed 3-D bioprinting technologies that might someday be used to create thicker tissues.
Given the difficulties, Modern Meadow is first focusing on creating cultured leather. Its process does not use stem cells but rather skin fibroblasts, specialized cells that produce collagen. "There are a lot of parallels to cultured meat, except that it is a lot less controversial because you’re not going to eat it," Dr. Forgacs said. "But if we can convince the universe that we can build leather, it will be much easier to convince the universe that we can build meat."
It’s a smart approach that Modern Meadow is taking: Woo us with indistinguishable leather goods while giving society time to welcome this new quasi-animal-product into our lives. But I can’t help but wonder whether clever design and marketing could bridge the gap to sell us these strange new meats quite quickly while we wait for the science to produce the indistinguishable lab-grown porterhouse.
Because with grown meat, we aren’t limited by the primal cuts that have dictated our eating choices since we first clubbed a mastodon. If the industry uses this to their advantage and champions the processed rather than the natural (lean meat nuggets, anyone?), they could create new, unforeseen, safe, and ethical meat products with all the appeal of the latest permutation of Cheetos.
A five-ounce, $325,000 Cheeto.
[Image: Hamburger via Shutterstock, Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design]