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How do you grow meat in a lab?


The Quest to Create Fake Flesh

One of the first visionaries to predict test-tube meat, you'll be surprised to learn, was Winston Churchill. Back in 1931, before he became Prime Minister, Churchill wrote a magazine article about technological progress in which he predicted that by 1981, "we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium" [source: Churchill].

He was a little off on the time frame, obviously. It wasn't until 2001 that a bioengineer named Morris Benjaminson and colleagues at New York's Touro College took chunks of fresh muscle tissue from a goldfish and immersed them in a vat of nutrient-rich liquid of fetal bovine serum. By doing that, the researchers found they could cause the still-living muscle cells to divide and produce more muscle cells; they were able to add about 14 percent worth of additional flesh on the chunks. Benjaminson actually tried frying the fake fish in olive oil flavored with lemon, garlic and pepper and showed the result to colleagues, but nobody got up the nerve to actually try a bite [source: Sample].

Things grew from there. Benjaminson envisioned fake fish as a food for astronauts on long space trips. But animal rights activists soon latched onto imitation flesh as a way to curb cruelty, and even offered a $1 million reward to the first researcher who could develop test-tube meat and market it to consumers [source: PETA]. Other visionaries saw test-tube meat as a solution for feeding a growing population, without burning up as many resources -- land, water, grain, and so on -- as it takes to raise cattle. In 2008, Norway hosted the first-ever conference on making test-tube meat, at which scientists released a study predicting that edible synthetic animal flesh could be manufactured for $5,000 a ton, which would make it competitive economically with actual meat [source: In Vitro Meat Consortium]. By 2012, about 30 different research teams around the world were working on growing meat in laboratories [source: Gayle].

In the next section, we'll explain the challenges of actually creating edible fake meat.


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