British scientists are aiming to grow ‘real’ steaks in a lab within 12 months in a groundbreaking world first.
The products would be indistinguishable from a premium cut purchased from a butcher and could even one day replace what farms need, according to 3D Bio-Tissues (3DBT).
Company bosses say their technology allows them to make 100% lab-grown meat – what it describes as ‘meat as you know it’ – that could be on restaurant menus here five years.
The process uses cells taken from a healthy animal, such as a cow, which are then stored in a liquid agent before being transferred to a bioreactor to grow the steak.
Scientists take cells from the cow and put the extracted DNA in a special liquid
The resulting mixture is placed in a cell bank and then in a bioreactor which grows the “chunks of meat”
The last step in the process is to send the “meat” to the store or restaurant to be cooked.
Unlike previous efforts, 3DBT says their steak will be biologically and structurally indistinguishable from the real thing.
Scientist Dr Che Connon, Managing Director of 3DBT, said: “There are probably around 20 or more companies around the world working on different [lab meat] aspects. But as far as we can tell, it is minced meat or other forms, not whole cut.
Geoff Baker, director of 3DBT’s parent company, BSF Enterprise, says the company’s technology could revolutionize food production. He said: “Cellular agriculture is the next most exciting technology to come. It will solve food shortages, it will solve greenhouse gases because of the reduction of meat from farms, it is the future of agriculture.
Thousands of cells can be extracted from a living cow in one painless biopsy. They are then placed in a bioreactor, where they are added to a chemical growth agent called “City-Mix”, which increases the number of cells.
These are then placed in a cell bank before being transferred to a “tissue bioreactor”, which stimulates the cells to transform into the structured fibers found in muscle. The company won’t disclose exactly what happens in the bioreactors to protect its intellectual property. But it’s the step that transforms the cells into a product that tastes and looks like a normal steak.
3DBT, which started as a start-up working out of Newcastle University, has already completed groundbreaking work in manufacturing the world’s first human corneas – which it says could restore sight to millions of people.
Theoretically, the biopsies could come from any animal, from pigs to fish and chicken
Theoretically, the biopsies could come from any animal, from pigs to fish and chicken. It could also be used to make leather and one day even human muscle for transplants. Another area where it could make a seismic difference is in the cultivation of meat or skins from exotic and endangered animals to disrupt some of the illegal wildlife trade.
That could mean making handbags out of crocodile skin or replicating controversial specialties.
Baker said, “If you’re thinking shark fin soup, we can do shark fin and nobody would tell the difference.”
Thousands of steaks could be made from a single biopsy.
But such dreams of making “Frankensteak” meat are not without controversy.
Some researchers have warned that lab-grown meat may require so much energy that it causes more long-term climate damage than agriculture. However, the warnings do not take into account the increase in green energy sources or the fact that fewer livestock could significantly reduce methane emissions.
3DBT is not itself a food manufacturer, but rather provides the technology to other groups who can then grow the meat.
BSF Enterprise listed on the London Stock Exchange last week and is now valued at £7.7million.