Top Tech 2013 Day 13: Synthetic Meat

Today’s post was written by Jason Ganz, formerly of the Millenium Project. Jason Ganz is a highly capable emerging technology analyst and Prokalkeo is grateful for his perspective on Top Tech 2013. His twitter can be found @jasnonaz.

 This August, the world’s first synthetic meat hamburger was eaten at an event in London. At over $330,000, this was one expensive meal! The reviews from the tasters were moderately positive, stating that it had a “mouthfeel” like meat, but with little flavor. This is due to the lack of fat & other complex chemicals that make traditional meat tasty – the lack of ketchup also probably didn’t help.

Synthetic meat could be big business, so naturally there are multiple groups vying to be the first to get it to market. The burger eaten in August was created using a technique pioneered by Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The meat was grown by removing myoblast cells from the animal through a painless biopsy. The meat was then placed into a solution & grown on an “edible scaffold”. This scaffold is designed to mimic the movement that causes muscles to grow.

Eventually, small muscle fibers begin to grow. These are then collected & pressed together. The burger eaten in August comprised of more than 20,000 of these lab-grown muscle fibers. Once the technical problem of synthetic meat is solved, the challenge of getting consumers to accept it begins. This problem – overcoming the “ick factor” might prove more difficult than the technical problem of creating the meat.

Another company, Modern Meadows, is tackling the synthetic meat problem from the outside in – they are working on developing a synthetic leather for market before they move on to meat. Leather is attractive to them because it faces far less government. And it doesn’t have quite the same grossness level that synthetic meat does. Once customers are used to the idea of wearing synthetic meat, they might be more willing to eat it. Which is good news for everyone, because synthetic meat adoption would have some amazing benefits.

Meat production currently produces 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission, or about half as much as cars do. Modern Meadows estimates that synthetic meat would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 96%! Additionally, synthetic meat would use 96% less water and 45% less energy. The positive effects on the environment would be staggering. Add to this the moral benefit of being able to eat meat without eating meat & synthetic meat becomes a “killer” breakthrough that has the potential to change the world.