From humble beginnings that resembled soggy pork back in 2009, to the classic steaks and rib-eyes we've seen pop up in the last few years, lab-grown meat has come along in leaps and bounds. The most sophisticated examples use bioprinting to "print" living cells, which are nurtured to grow and differentiate into different cell types, ultimately building up into the tissues of the desired animal.
The Osaka University team used two types of stem cells harvested from Wagyu cows as their starting point, bovine satellite cells and adipose-derived stem cells. These cells were incubated and coaxed into becoming the different cell types needed to form individual fibers for muscle, fat and blood vessels. These were then arranged into a 3D stack to resemble the high intramuscular fat content of Wagyu, better known as marbling, or sashi in Japan.
I tend to think of lab-grown meats in the same terms as lab-grown diamonds. They are technically the same thing as the naturally occurring variety but it is very difficult to convince consumers of that fact. Nevertheless, lab-grown diamonds have carved out an important niche in the precious stones sector and particularly in the market for smaller sizes.
Lab-grown meat still has a long way to go to become cost competitive. However, it is an accelerating trend, so it will probably happen sooner than many people believe possible.
The sector poses a particular threat to the meat alternatives that have cropped up over the last decade. Beyond Meat products taste nothing like the meat products they are supposed to replace, so consumers eat them because they are making a choice to. If lab grown alternatives approach the cost and quality of farm products the meat alternative sector will likely disappear.
Beyond Meat initially surged following its IPO and has been ranging for two years.