|Race to serve up artificial chicken for a $1m prize|
|Monday, 23 January 2012|
A small group of people will meet in Washington later this year for what they hope will be a lunch to change the world. The meal should consist of fried chicken and nothing else, but while it may look like chicken, have the texture of chicken and even taste like chicken, it will never have lived or breathed.
Five years ago Peta, the world's largest animal welfare group, gave scientists until 30 June 2012 to prove they could make "cultured", or laboratory meat, in commercial quantities. The first scientist to show that artificial chicken can be grown in quantity and be indistinguishable from "real" chicken flesh will be awarded $1m.
"We really do not know who will apply," said Ingrid Newkirk, president and founder of Peta. "Five years ago I thought no one would. But I cannot tell any more. There is a real chance someone will claim the reward. A lot of researchers are keeping very quiet and have their cards close to their chest. Progress is being made. They are overcoming obstacles. We are very optimistic."
Leading the race to show that it is possible is Mark Post, head of the department of vascular physiology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Post has been given $300,000 by the Dutch government and by an anonymous donor, believed by Newkirk to be a media magnate, to develop his stem cell research. He has claimed he will produce a synthetic beefburger this year.
Post cannot win the Peta prize because he is working with beef, not chicken, but he has successfully grown strips of meat a few centimetres long. But his work is slow and it is proving hard to grow the meat any thicker or in large quantities.
Another group of scientists, at Utrecht university in the Netherlands, is experimenting with stem cells harvested from embryos. One stem cell could potentially produce tonnes of meat, with all the stem cells from one cow being enough to feed an entire country.
"But this is very complex science and harder than we thought. We have found we cannot yet cultivate cells from embryos, only in principle from adult animals and then not very efficiently. I think it is a decade away and we need research money," said Bernard Roelen, professor of veterinary science.
Coming from a different direction is US scientist Vladimir Mironov, former director of the Nasa-funded Bioprinting research centre at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, but now working with a Brazilian meat company. Mironov works with tissue engineering and has taken embryonic muscle cells from turkeys, bathed them in a bovine serum and successfully grown muscle tissue, but only in very small quantities.
Mironov is certain tissue-engineered meat will eventually be developed.....
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