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World's first $290,000 test-tube burger - hungry?

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Would you eat a meat product grown from a petri dish?

A Dutch scientist expects to create the world's first 'test tube burger' after creating the 'meat' from stem cells -- and wants Heston Blumenthal to serve up the first dish.

Would you be happy to consume such a product?

Dr Mark Post, head of physiology at Maastricht University, plans to unveil a complete burger, produced at a cost of more than $290,000, this year. The synthetic meat protein was created by extracting bovine stem cell muscle tissues and growing it in-lab.

To date, Post and the research team have grown small sheets of the cow muscle (3cm long, 1.5cm wide, and 0.5mm thick). It is expected that each burger would require 3,000 pieces of muscle, to be minced together with synthetic fat cells to create an edible meat patty.

The research to create 'test tube burgers' began over six years ago. Funded by a reportedly wealthy, albeit anonymous individual, if the taste-test goes well then the scientists believe it could be theoretically possible to rapidly increase the production of the synthetic meat -- which would in turn mean that livestock numbers could be decreased, and carbon emissions could be substantially reduced. Livestock release incredible amounts of methane gas, which is one of the top gases linked to global warming.

Post believes that although a selection of 'donor' animals would need to be slaughtered in order to provide the stem cells required, millions of animals could be rendered unnecessary -- as 'a million times more meat could be made from the carcass of a single cow'. The scientist also noted:

"It comes down to the fact that animals are very inefficient at converting vegetable protein [either grass or grain] into animal protein.

Right now we are using about 70 per cent of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock. You are going to need alternatives. If we don't do anything, meat will become a luxury food and will become very expensive."

Meat is becoming dearer, as the cost of grain and raising cattle rises, so does the price that consumers have to pay. As the human population continues to grow, it is expected that meat demand will double in the next 40 years.

Speaking at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Post stated the burger would be a "proof of concept" to demonstrate that in-vitro methods can be used to create products that look and (hopefully) taste like meat. Post is a little nervous about the 'taste test' -- which could determine whether the project gains truly solid ground for further advancement as a potential future food source.

The anonymous sponsor of the research has reportedy not yet decided who could get to eat the world's most expensive hamburger, which will unveiled at a ceremony in Maastricht in October. However, Heston Blumethal is the favourite to have the honour of cooking it.

A Frankenstein food source, or a reasonable alternative to costly meat production?

Image credit: Martin/ Ugod

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure