April 22, 2017

From research to development

Manufactured meat has been demonstrated. The first hamburger was produced in a lab, hugely expensive and not too tasty. However, development has not stood still. How far are we? When can we buy manufactured meat in the supermarket?

A long time ago, Winston Churchill predicted: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

This was in 1931…

Since then, many people have tried to make this prediction a reality.

One of the more famous ones was Willem van Eelen. He did a lot of research before the year 2000 and even holds a patent in the area too.

In 2004, after continued lobbying from van Eelen, the Dutch government awarded two million euros to a consortium of universities and research facilities in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Eindhoven. Though the grant was small, it has helped turn the (south) Netherlands into the in-vitro-meat world’s version of Silicon Valley.

When funding ran out, the work was taken over by Mark Post in Eindhoven and Maastricht University. He managed to secure more funding from Google founder Sergey Brin and was able to produce the worlds first artificial hamburger in 2013.

The public tasting of this hamburger in London was world news.

So after another few years, what is the current state of the industry?

One proof-of-concept has been done: muscle cells can grow from stem cells. The practical problems in manufacturing meat are still large. There is no commercial product on the market yet.

However, the current crop of problems appears to be solvable. We seem to be entering from the research stage into the development stage.

The development stage will take a few years, after which manufacturing could start.

Who will say at what timeframes?

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