Illustration by PA Images / Alamy


Have Your Burger and Eat It, Too

Have we seen the future of meat?

By Mifi Purvis, '93 BA

August 28, 2018 •

Is there a way we could become more sustainable and self-sufficient, and still eat meat? Isha Datar, '09 BSc, thinks so. She's the executive director of New Harvest, a non-profit that funds openly accessible scientific research aimed at creating cultured food, including meat, from cells grown in a lab. Think of it as the "meatri dish" solution that could provide ready access to sustainable meat.

The carbon footprint of a steak comes from the energy, feed and water that went into raising and housing the animal. Not to mention methane and other greenhouse gases livestock emit. Creating meat in a lab could eliminate those issues.

In theory, here's how it works: take a few cells from an animal's muscle tissue and seed them on some kind of scaffold, a structure on which the cells can grow. Next put the seeded scaffold in a nutrient-rich liquid medium, then add the works to a bioreactor. Boom, you are growing meat without vast tracts of land or huge consumption of energy.

In reality, though, it's not that easy. The obstacles include creating an edible scaffold and a stable liquid medium that is not derived from animals. (Liquid media are usually made from fetal bovine serum, taken from the blood of cow fetuses.)

So far, New Harvest has funded projects that have created egg protein and milk in cell cultures. Datar knows cultured animal protein won't soon replace industrial livestock. But, she says, "the density and number of animals we're dealing with on factory farms is reaching global limits."

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