News in Tissue Engineering: Growing Meat in a Petri Dish?

BBC: How growing meat in a petri dish may be the future

This is an excellent video made by the BBC in talks with Professor Post at Maastricht University, which addresses many of the key issues. Briefly, there are some very important issues to bring up.

o Growing meat in the current way has huge environmental effects based on the amount of food being fed to animals, and the amount of waste being put out
o Not discussed: the effects on the economy in transitioning from an agricultural system to a biological factory system.
o Also not discussed: what would happen to all the waste from a meat factory?

o No one knows exactly why meat tastes the way it does.
o Fat, which is believed to give flavor to meat from an animal, would have to be grown separately and mixed in, and there is no saying that fat from a dish tastes like fat from an animal. Back to square one.
o Texture was not directly discussed in the video, though as it appears that Professor Post is applying mechanical pressure to cells (conjecture based on an apparatus I observed in the video); this would lead us to the conclusion that he is actually producing muscle tissue and not just layers of muscle cells – an important distinction.

o Professor Post rightly talks about the vascularization issue, which I talked about in my tissue engineering post on August 5 – it’s hard to grow a thick chunk of meat in a dish because of the inside-outside issue.
o Professor Post suggests bioreactor systems, but these still produce many thin layers that would have to be pressed together to form a steak (a bit like a really thick version of chicken slices seen at the deli counter).
o When Professor Post talks about the $250,000 burger, he’s almost certainly going to take many of these smaller pieces and put them together to get the final product
o Scale is also a problem because, although cells can be exponentially expanded in culture, as discussed in my August 11 post on passaging cells their characteristics change with each passage out of the animal. (I presume he is not talking about using immortalized cell lines because he intends to keep donor animals.)

Summary: Professor Post is working on a project that, for obvious reasons, gets a lot of attention from mainstream media. He is obviously well aware about the limitations of his project, but is taking a practical approach to getting it done right. It’s a great theory, and deserves investment, but we shouldn’t expect to be eating faux meat (“in vitro meat”) for years to come.