From all livestock, cows and pigs are the least efficient meat producers with a bioconversion rate of 15%. Through breeding and feeding, the bioconversion rate has reached its upper limit. This inefficiency provides us with a margin to improve meat production provided we move beyond the traditional boundaries of livestock.
Current stem cell technology and skeletal muscle cell biology present opportunities to grow meat in a laboratory “ex vivo” environment with a higher efficiency of converting basic nutrients into edible animal proteins. Already, we are capable of growing pieces of tissue that consist primarily of skeletal muscle from porcine stem cells, derived from muscle biopsies.
There is a tremendous amount of work ahead of us to eventually reach an efficient, cost-effective and high quality meat product, but most of these steps are of a technical nature. Given sufficient effort and resources these technical issues will be solved.
The versatility of the culture process may also result in alternative meat products that for instance contain healthier fatty acids, or are blends of various stem cell sources.
First and foremost however it is essential that a full proof of concept will be provided to attract larger resources to this promising endeavor. We are in the process of growing a first hamburger from bovine stem cells. An update of the state of affairs and of the challenges ahead will be provided.
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