Call it pork in a petri dish – a technique to turn pig stem cells into strips of meat that scientists say could one day offer a green alternative to raising livestock and help alleviate world hunger.
Dutch scientists have grown pork in the laboratory since 2006, and while they haven’t gotten the texture right or even tasted the meat, they say the technology promises to have widespread implications for the food supply.
“If we took the stem cells from one pig and multiplied it by a factor of a million, we would need 1 million fewer pigs to get the same amount of meat,” said Mark Post, a biologist at Maastricht University involved in the In-vitro Meat Consortium, a network of research institutions that is carrying out the experiments.
Post describes the texture of the meat as sort of like a scallop, firm but a little squishy and moist.
Similar research was funded by NASA, which hoped that astronauts could grow their own meat in space. But after growing thin sheets of tissue, NASA decided that it would be better for astronauts to simply eat vegetarian.
Dutch scientists say they haven’t got the texture right yet, but they have managed to grow pork in a lab using stem cells from pig muscles.
So far, they’ve only been able to grow meat strips half an inch long, but one of the researchers estimates a small pork chop would take about 30 days in the lab. Mark Post says the main problem is producing pork with the same protein content as regular meat. The lack of protein gives the petri pork a softer, flimsier consistency more like scallops.
Still, Post says the development could eventually offer an alternative to raising livestock and help ease hunger around the world.
One American researcher not involved in the Dutch study says the findings could also help develop healthier foods. For instance, healthy omega 3 fatty acids from fish stem cells could be mixed in to produce meat without the usual artery-clogging fats that come from livestock.
Other experts warn that lab-produced meat could pose health dangers.
None of the researchers have actually eaten the lab-made meat yet, but they’re guessing it won’t really taste like pork.