Fake Meat: More Protein Coming From Labs, Plants
By Gene Johnston, Successful Farming
Agriculture.com - 11/29/2018
Ask a group of cattle producers what they think of the developing competition from a new generation of nonanimal burgers, such as the Impossible Burger. It will certainly get their dander up.
To get them even more excited, ask about a more futuristic development: cultured meat. It’s grown from a sliver of muscle cells (extracted from a real animal) that is coaxed to grow into a slab of meat in an incubator.
Ranchers like to call it fake meat that probably shouldn’t be allowed in a meat case at a grocery store. Like it or not, new technology is sweeping into the food protein business, and it could very well impact current and future generations of livestock producers.
What is the technology?
The new meat tech is coming in two forms: plant-based and cultured animal cells grown in a lab.
Perhaps the most well-known of the new-generation plant-based burgers is the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods. According to the company’s website, its burger is made from wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and a mystery ingredient called heme. It claims heme is responsible for the characteristic taste and aroma of meat.
Beyond Meat makes veggie sausages and burgers using peas and beets as main ingredients. Its site says, “Beets provide the meaty red hue, peas provide the protein, and coconut oil and potato starch ensure mouthwatering juiciness and chew.”
The process for growing meat in a lab is a little fuzzy to laypeople. Because of the race to bring products to market, some of the half-dozen companies working on cultured meat are rather secretive.
A Dutch start-up called Mosa Meats, founded by university professor Mark Post, does explain its process online.
“The first step is to take some cells from the muscle of an animal, such as a cow if we’re making beef, which is done with a small biopsy under anesthesia.
“The cells taken are called myosatellite cells, which are the stem cells of muscles. The function of these stem cells within the animal is to create new muscle tissue when the muscle is injured. It is this inherent talent of the stem cells that is utilized in making cultured meat.
“The cells are placed in a medium containing nutrients and naturally occurring growth factors and are allowed to proliferate just as they would inside an animal. They proliferate until we get trillions of cells from a small sample. This growth takes place in a bioreactor, which looks similar to the bioreactors that beer and yogurt are fermented in.
“When we want the cells to differentiate into muscle cells, we simply stop feeding them growth factors, and they differentiate on their own. The muscle cells naturally merge to form myotubes (a primitive muscle fiber that is no more than 0.3 mm long).
“The myotubes are then placed in a gel that is 99% water, which helps the cells form the shape of muscle fibers. The muscle cells’ innate tendency to contract causes them to start putting on bulk, growing into a small strand of muscle tissue.
“From one cow sample, we can produce 800 million strands of muscle tissue (enough to make 80,000 quarter pounders).
“When all these strands are layered together, we get what we started with – meat. It can then be processed using standard food technologies; for example, putting it through a meat grinder to make ground beef.”
Since the cells are doing what they normally would inside an animal, the company says the cells are not genetically modified in any way.
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