Brave New Hamburger

Researchers cook up far-out ways to grow meat

But the fish didn't keep growing wildly in size the way that Carrel's chicken heart did. It became obvious that the key to moving forward wouldn't be to use slices of tissue, but to move down to the level of the cell itself, using a type of muscle cell called a myoblast. "You want something that will proliferate a million times in culture," explains Matheny.

Vladimir Mironov, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina, is a key proponent of the myoblast method. He's also very aware of the obstacles. "The problem is, if you want to do in vitro meat production, it must be very, very cheap; you can't use expensive growth factor, cell culture media," he says. "Problem number two is that myoblasts are attachment-dependent cells; if they're not attached to something, they won't survive." The cells need to be attached to a scaffold, preferably an edible one. Then there's the question of texture—meat has the texture it does because of the way the animal moves its muscles during its life. "I think that part of the texture problem will have to be solved through 'exercising' the cells," says Matheny.

Despite the technical barriers, Matheny, Mironov, and their collaborators are very aware of the possibilities. Cultured meat could be engineered to have a very specific composition, for instance. "The taste of the meat depends on the fat—that's already well-known; we can add lipocytes," Mironov says. "You want 10 percent or 5 percent, it's very easy."

As of yet, no one knows whether or not cultured meat will, in fact, taste like chicken. "It's not going to develop quickly," says Peter Johnson, co-editor of Tissue Engineering. "People aren't going to see this in a supermarket in two weeks. It's going to be a long time before this is in front of people."

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