You must be kidding! You can't do that! That's going too far! What are you expecting? What do you think your doing? Those were just some of my thoughts.
What changes about the image of something you eat if you know it was grown in a lab rather than on a farm or in a garden? I was on my way to see Professor Mark Post, famous for the invention of cultured meat, and quickly christened the Frankenburger by the international press.
It was incredible. Or, as he says himself, "From the very beginning, I was fascinated by the concept of creating meat in a laboratory. That actually sounds pretty gruesome but, of course, it isn't. It is what it is. Perhaps it's also the reason why I was approached by our sponsor Sergey Brin, (co-founder of Google)."
With the infrastructure of Chemelot and Health Campus, Limburg offers the perfect facilities for a researcher like Post: fast exchange of knowledge, cooperation between all sorts of scientific disciplines, and short lines of communication. That's why he opted for Maastricht. And there they also have a better feeling for the medical aspects of such research.
I was fascinated by the concept of creating meat in a laboratory.
New research always starts with the awareness that we cannot know something intuitively. But we can do and achieve. Everything is possible. Away with conventions! Use your problems as a reason for making the impossible possible! An impossibility that can be overcome only through the combination of creativity and science and belief in this combination.
The Power of Impossibility
Or the explosive power that is released if we succeed in overcoming the Impossibility. I suddenly found myself standing in front Mark Post, hamburger grower.
I promised that this would be my first and last corny joke. He smiled reassuringly. It was so charming a smile that he was suddenly the absolute antithesis of everything that had just been going through my mind. He was completely the opposite of a man who fits body parts together.
My first question had been well considered and rehearsed many times: "Can you believe it? Because you must admit that it's unbelievable." He looked a bit surprised but continued to smile.
How did it start? What was the problem? The greatest inventions almost always start with a problem. He continued to smile calmly. Clearly he does not get upset when presented with an impossibility.
A series of problems
He began to describe a whole series of problems:
- Livestock farming is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.
- The meat processing industry is the single largest consumer of antibiotics in the world.
- The demand for meat will double worldwide, particularly in emerging economies.
- The impact of land use on biodiversity.
- Livestock farming is consuming 8% of the world’s water while more than a billion people have little or no access to clean drinking water.
Problems, problems and even more problems, all voiced from behind that friendly smile.
Growing Fat Tissue - On Purpose
"Yes, it was certainly a great challenge," he continues. "We're still curious about what is possible ourselves. We're now working on the color and the texture, and we’ll have to do further research into juiciness. We can influence these by growing fat tissue and adding it in the right proportion. After that, we'll have to start production."
We talk more about collaboration at Maastricht University—about short lines of communication and long-term partnerships. About the horrified reaction in the international press, the headlines about the Frankenburger and so on. And his calm smile sweeps it all away.
"What we make here is pure muscle, no more and no less. We can attach a muscle cell to something on one side, such as the edge of a Petri dish, and to more of these cells on the other side. The muscle cells do what they were designed to do: they perform. They're programed to stretch and attach to the muscle cells next to them.
“This could be the answer to the entire food problem, and a host of other problems too. But, for the time being, the question is 'what do we do next?' The beef in the Petri dish has to be fed. We have shown proof of concept but that means that we are about as far as the new BMW concept car. So it will still take a lot of time and research before you can just grow your own meat in your own breeding machine."